PCA Case Nº 2013-19

IN THE MATTER OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA ARBITRATION

- before -

AN ARBITRAL TRIBUNAL CONSTITUTED UNDER ANNEX VII TO THE
1982 UNITED NATIONS CONVENTION ON THE LAW OF THE SEA

- between -

THE REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES

- and THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA

__________________________________________________________

AWARD
__________________________________________________________

Arbitral Tribunal:
Judge Thomas A. Mensah (Presiding Arbitrator)
Judge Jean-Pierre Cot
Judge Stanislaw Pawlak
Professor Alfred H.A. Soons
Judge Rüdiger Wolfrum

Registry:
Permanent Court of Arbitration

12 July 2016

The South China Sea Arbitration
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The South China Sea Arbitration
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REPRESENTATIVES OF THE PARTIES

PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA

REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES

AGENT
No agents or representatives appointed

Mr. Jose C. Calida
Solicitor General of the Philippines
replacing Solicitor General Florin T. Hilbay,
as of 30 June 2016

COUNSEL AND ADVOCATES
Mr. Paul S. Reichler
Mr. Lawrence H. Martin
Mr. Andrew B. Loewenstein
Foley Hoag LLP, Washington and Boston
Professor Bernard H. Oxman
University of Miami School of Law, Miami
Professor Philippe Sands QC
Matrix Chambers, London
Professor Alan Boyle
Essex Court Chambers, London

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TABLE OF CONTENTS
I.

INTRODUCTION ...................................................................................................................................... 1

II.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY ..................................................................................................................... 11
A.

Initiation of the Arbitration .......................................................................................................... 11

B.

Constitution of the Tribunal and Appointment of the PCA as Registry................................... 12

C.

Written Arguments........................................................................................................................ 13

D.

Bifurcation of Proceedings ............................................................................................................ 16

E.

Hearing on Jurisdiction and Admissibility .................................................................................. 17

F.

Provisional Scheduling of Hearing on the Merits and Appointment of Expert ....................... 18

G.

Issuance of Award on Jurisdiction and Admissibility ................................................................ 19

H.

Hearing on the Merits ................................................................................................................... 23

I.

Post-Hearing Proceedings ............................................................................................................. 27

J.

Further Evidence, Expert Reports, and Communications from China and Others ................... 29

K.

Notification, Publication, and Translation of Award ................................................................. 38

L.

Deposits for Costs of the Arbitration ........................................................................................... 38

III.

RELIEF REQUESTED AND SUBMISSIONS ...................................................................................... 41

IV.

PRELIMINARY MATTERS ................................................................................................................... 45
A.

B.

C.
V.

The Legal and Practical Consequences of China’s Non-Participation ..................................... 45
1.

Steps Taken to Ensure Procedural Fairness to Both Parties ................................................. 46

2.

Steps Taken by the Tribunal to Satisfy Itself that It Has Jurisdiction and that the
Claim is Well Founded in Fact and Law .............................................................................. 49

3.

Conclusion on the Legal and Practical Consequences of China’s Non-Participation .......... 55

Summary of the Tribunal’s Award on Jurisdiction ................................................................... 56
1.

Preliminary Matters .............................................................................................................. 57

2.

Existence of a Dispute concerning Interpretation and Application of the Convention......... 58

3.

Involvement of Indispensable Third Parties ......................................................................... 60

4.

Preconditions to Jurisdiction ................................................................................................ 60

5.

Exceptions and Limitations to Jurisdiction .......................................................................... 62

6.

Decisions of the Tribunal ..................................................................................................... 63

The Status and Effect of the Tribunal’s Award on Jurisdiction ............................................... 64

THE ‘NINE-DASH LINE’ AND CHINA’S CLAIM TO HISTORIC RIGHTS IN THE
MARITIME AREAS OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA (SUBMISSIONS NO. 1 AND 2) .................... 67
A.

Introduction ................................................................................................................................... 67

B.

China’s Declarations and Legislation concerning Entitlements to Maritime Zones ............... 68

C.

China’s Claims to Historic Rights ................................................................................................ 71

D.

The Philippines’ Position .............................................................................................................. 74

E.

1.

Jurisdiction ........................................................................................................................... 79

2.

China’s Claim to Historic Rights ......................................................................................... 80

China’s Position ............................................................................................................................. 84

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F.

The Tribunal’s Considerations ..................................................................................................... 85
1.

2.

VI.

The Tribunal’s Jurisdiction .................................................................................................. 85
(a)

The Nature of China’s Claimed Rights in the South China Sea ................................ 86

(b)

The Scope of the Exception in Article 298(1)(a)(i) of the Convention ..................... 92

The Merits of the Philippines’ Submissions No. 1 and 2 ..................................................... 97
(a)

The Convention and Prior Claims to Historic Rights and Jurisdiction ..................... 98

(b)

China’s Claim to Historic Rights in the South China Sea ....................................... 112

(c)

Whether China has Established Exceptional Rights or Jurisdiction since the
Adoption of the Convention .................................................................................... 115

(d)

Conclusion .............................................................................................................. 116

THE STATUS OF FEATURES IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA (SUBMISSIONS NO. 3 TO 7)........ 119
A.

Introduction ................................................................................................................................. 119

B.

The Status of Features as Above/Below Water at High Tide (Submissions No. 4 and 6) ...... 119

C.

1.

Introduction ........................................................................................................................ 119

2.

Factual Background............................................................................................................ 120

3.

The Philippines’ Position ................................................................................................... 122

4.

China’s Position ................................................................................................................. 130

5.

The Tribunal’s Considerations ........................................................................................... 131
(a)

The Interpretation of Article 13 and the Tribunal’s Approach to
Submissions No. 4 and 6 ......................................................................................... 131

(b)

Evidence on the Status of Features as Above/Below Water at High Tide .............. 137

(c)

The Status of Particular Features in the South China Sea ....................................... 143

(d)

Conclusion .............................................................................................................. 174

The Status of Features as Rocks/Islands (Submissions No. 3, 5, and 7) .................................. 175
1.

Introduction ........................................................................................................................ 175

2.

Factual Background............................................................................................................ 178

3.

The Philippines’ Position ................................................................................................... 181

4.

5.

(a)

Interpretation of Article 121(3) ............................................................................... 181

(b)

Application to Features Identified in Submissions No. 3 and 7 .............................. 186

(c)

Application to Other Maritime Features ................................................................. 187

China’s Position ................................................................................................................. 195
(a)

China’s Statements on the Meaning of Article 121(3) ............................................ 197

(b)

China’s Position on the Status of Scarborough Shoal ............................................. 199

(c)

China’s Position on the Status of Itu Aba ............................................................... 202

(d)

China’s Position on the Status of Other Features in the Spratly Islands ................. 203

The Tribunal’s Considerations ........................................................................................... 204
(a)

Interpretation of Article 121 of the Convention ...................................................... 204

(b)

Application of Article 121(3) to Scarborough Shoal, Johnson Reef, Cuarteron
Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Gaven Reef (North), and McKennan Reef ....................... 232

(c)

Application of Article 121 to the Spratly Islands as a Whole ................................. 235

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VII.

(d)

Application of Article 121 to Other High-Tide Features in the Spratly Islands ...... 237

(e)

Decision on the Tribunal’s Jurisdiction with respect to Submission No. 5 ............. 254

(f)

Conclusion .............................................................................................................. 259

CHINESE ACTIVITIES IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA (SUBMISSIONS NO. 8 TO 13) .............. 261
A.

Alleged Interference with the Philippines’ Sovereign Rights in its EEZ and
Continental Shelf (Submission No. 8) ........................................................................................ 261
1.

Introduction ........................................................................................................................ 261

2.

Factual Background............................................................................................................ 261

3.

B.

C.

(a)

Actions regarding Non-Living Resources ............................................................... 261

(b)

Alleged Interference with Living Resources ........................................................... 268

The Philippines’ Position ................................................................................................... 274
(a)

Jurisdiction .............................................................................................................. 274

(b)

The Philippines’ Rights in the Exclusive Economic Zone ...................................... 275

4.

China’s Position ................................................................................................................. 276

5.

The Tribunal’s Considerations ........................................................................................... 277
(a)

The Tribunal’s Jurisdiction ..................................................................................... 277

(b)

China’s Actions and the Philippines’ Sovereign Rights.......................................... 279

(c)

Conclusion .............................................................................................................. 286

Alleged Failure to Prevent Chinese Nationals from Exploiting the Philippines’ Living
Resources (Submission No. 9) ..................................................................................................... 287
1.

Introduction ........................................................................................................................ 287

2.

Factual Background............................................................................................................ 287

3.

The Philippines’ Position ................................................................................................... 288

4.

China’s Position ................................................................................................................. 290

5.

The Tribunal’s Considerations ........................................................................................... 291
(a)

The Tribunal’s Jurisdiction ..................................................................................... 291

(b)

The Law Applicable to China’s Supervision of its Fishing Vessels ....................... 291

(c)

The Activities of Chinese Fishing Vessels at Mischief Reef and Second
Thomas Shoal .......................................................................................................... 294

(d)

Conclusion .............................................................................................................. 297

China’s Actions in respect of Traditional Fishing at Scarborough Shoal (Submission
No. 10) ........................................................................................................................................... 299
1.

Introduction ........................................................................................................................ 299

2.

Factual Background............................................................................................................ 299

3.

(a)

Traditional Fishing by Philippine Fishermen at Scarborough Shoal ....................... 300

(b)

China’s Intermittent Prevention of Fishing by Philippine Vessels at
Scarborough Shoal (May 2012 to Present) ............................................................. 301

The Philippines’ Position ................................................................................................... 304
(a)

Article 2(3) of the Convention ................................................................................ 304

(b)

Articles 51(1) and 62(3) of the Convention ............................................................ 308

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(c)

D.

4.

China’s Position ................................................................................................................. 309

5.

The Tribunal’s Considerations ........................................................................................... 310
(a)

The Law Applicable to Traditional Fishing ............................................................ 311

(b)

The Protection of Traditional Fishing at Scarborough Shoal .................................. 315

(c)

Conclusion .............................................................................................................. 318

Alleged Failure to Protect and Preserve the Marine Environment (Submissions No. 11
and 12(B)) ..................................................................................................................................... 319
1.

Introduction ........................................................................................................................ 319

2.

Factual Background............................................................................................................ 321

3.

4.

5.

E.

China’s Obligation to Act in Good Faith and Settle Disputes by Peaceful
Means ...................................................................................................................... 308

(a)

The Marine Environment of the South China Sea .................................................. 321

(b)

Harmful Fishing Practices and Harvesting of Endangered Species ........................ 322

(c)

China’s Construction Activities on Seven Reefs in the Spratly Islands .................. 329

The Philippines’ Position ................................................................................................... 355
(a)

Harmful Fishing Practices and Harvesting of Endangered Species ........................ 356

(b)

China’s Construction Activities on Seven Reefs in the Spratly Islands .................. 358

(c)

Interpretation and Application of Part XII of the Convention ................................ 360

China’s Position ................................................................................................................. 363
(a)

Harmful Fishing Practices and Harvesting of Endangered Species ........................ 363

(b)

China’s Construction Activities on Seven Reefs in the Spratly Islands .................. 364

The Tribunal’s Considerations ........................................................................................... 369
(a)

The Tribunal’s Jurisdiction ..................................................................................... 369

(b)

Relevant Provisions of the Convention ................................................................... 373

(c)

Harmful Fishing Practices and Harvesting of Endangered Species ........................ 378

(d)

China’s Construction Activities on Seven Reefs in the Spratly Islands .................. 388

(e)

Conclusion .............................................................................................................. 397

Occupation and Construction Activities on Mischief Reef (Submission No. 12).................... 399
1.

Introduction ........................................................................................................................ 399

2.

Factual Background............................................................................................................ 399

3.

(a)

China’s Initial Activities on Mischief Reef (1995 to 2013) .................................... 399

(b)

Island-Building Activities on Mischief Reef (Post-2013) ....................................... 402

The Philippines’ Position ................................................................................................... 404
(a)

Military Activities and the Tribunal’s Jurisdiction ................................................. 404

(b)

Articles 60 and 80 of the Convention...................................................................... 407

(c)

Attempted Appropriation under the Convention ..................................................... 408

4.

China’s Position ................................................................................................................. 409

5.

The Tribunal’s Considerations ........................................................................................... 411
(a)

The Tribunal’s Jurisdiction ..................................................................................... 411

(b)

China’s Actions at Mischief Reef and the Philippines’ Sovereign Rights .............. 413

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(c)
F.

Conclusion .............................................................................................................. 415

Operation of Law Enforcement Vessels in a Dangerous Manner (Submission No. 13) ........ 417
1.

Introduction ........................................................................................................................ 417

2.

Factual Background............................................................................................................ 417

3.

(a)

Near-Collision of Philippine Vessels BRP Pampanga and BRP Edsa II with
Chinese Vessel FLEC 310 ...................................................................................... 418

(b)

Near-Collision of Philippine Vessel MCS 3008 with Several Chinese Vessels
upon Approach to Scarborough Shoal .................................................................... 418

The Philippines’ Position ................................................................................................... 421
(a)

The Applicability of the COLREGS to China ........................................................ 421

(b)

Exceptions to the COLREGS for Special Circumstances ....................................... 423

(c)

Application of the COLREGS to Chinese Vessels at Scarborough Shoal .............. 423

4.

China’s Position ................................................................................................................. 426

5.

The Tribunal’s Considerations ........................................................................................... 428
(a)

Background on the COLREGS ............................................................................... 428

(b)

Report of Tribunal-Appointed Independent Expert ................................................ 429

(c)

Application of Article 94 of the Convention and the COLREGS ........................... 431

(d)

Conclusion .............................................................................................................. 435

VIII. AGGRAVATION OR EXTENSION OF THE DISPUTE BETWEEN THE PARTIES
(SUBMISSION NO. 14) .......................................................................................................................... 437
A.

Introduction ................................................................................................................................. 437

B.

Factual Background .................................................................................................................... 438
1.

2.
C.

D.

E.

Chinese Actions in and around Second Thomas Shoal ...................................................... 438
(a)

China’s Objections to the Presence of BRP Sierra Madre at Second Thomas
Shoal ....................................................................................................................... 438

(b)

China’s Interference in the Rotation and Resupply of Philippine Personnel at
Second Thomas Shoal ............................................................................................. 441

China’s Dredging, Artificial Island-Building and Construction Activities ........................ 445

The Philippines’ Position ............................................................................................................ 445
1.

Jurisdiction ......................................................................................................................... 445

2.

The Philippines’ Rights to Have this Dispute Settled Peacefully ....................................... 447
(a)

Obligation Not to Engage in Acts that Might Aggravate a Dispute ........................ 447

(b)

China’s Conduct in relation to the Dispute ............................................................. 448

China’s Position ........................................................................................................................... 450
1.

Obligation Not to Engage in Acts that Might Aggravate a Dispute ................................... 450

2.

China’s Conduct in relation to the Dispute ........................................................................ 451
(a)

Chinese Activities in and around Second Thomas Shoal ........................................ 451

(b)

China’s Dredging and Construction Activities ....................................................... 452

The Tribunal’s Considerations ................................................................................................... 452
1.

The Tribunal’s Jurisdiction ................................................................................................ 452
(a)

China’s Actions in and around Second Thomas Shoal ........................................... 453

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(b)

IX.

X.

China’s Dredging and Construction Activities ....................................................... 456

2.

The Law Applicable to Conduct in the Course of Dispute Resolution Proceedings .......... 457

3.

The Effect of China’s Dredging and Construction Activities on the Parties’ Disputes ...... 461

4.

Conclusion.......................................................................................................................... 464

THE FUTURE CONDUCT OF THE PARTIES (SUBMISSION NO. 15) ........................................ 465
A.

The Philippines’ Position ............................................................................................................ 465

B.

China’s Position ........................................................................................................................... 466

C.

The Tribunal’s Considerations ................................................................................................... 467

D.

Conclusion .................................................................................................................................... 469

DISPOSITIF ............................................................................................................................................ 471

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TABLE OF MAPS
The maps in this Award are illustrative only. Their use by the Tribunal is not intended to endorse any
State’s position with respect to matters of land sovereignty or maritime boundaries.
Map 1: South China Sea .......................................................................................................................... 9
Map 2: South China Sea - Northern Area ........................................................................................... 123
Map 3: South China Sea - Southern Area ........................................................................................... 125
Map 4: Philippine Petroleum Blocks in the South China Sea ............................................................. 269

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TABLE OF FIGURES
Figure 1: Map showing the “Location of the Various Islands in the South Sea,” 1948 ........................ 75
Figure 2: Map attached to China’s 7 May 2009 Notes Verbales........................................................... 77
Figure 3: Map enclosed with China National Offshore Oil Corporation Press Release ....................... 89
Figure 4: Fiery Cross Reef .................................................................................................................. 149
Figure 5: Johnson Reef ........................................................................................................................ 151
Figure 6: McKennan Reef ................................................................................................................... 153
Figure 7: Hughes Reef......................................................................................................................... 159
Figure 8: Gaven Reef (North) ............................................................................................................. 161
Figure 9: Subi Reef and Sandy Cay on Thitu Reefs ............................................................................ 169
Figure 10: Mischief Reef ..................................................................................................................... 171
Figure 11: Survey of South-West Cay by HMS Iroquois, 1926.......................................................... 248
Figure 12: Dredging Operations .......................................................................................................... 331
Figure 13: Fiery Cross Reef Installation circa 2011 ............................................................................ 333
Figure 14: Subi Reef Installation circa 2012 ....................................................................................... 333
Figure 15: Tian Jing Hao, Cutter-Suction Dredge............................................................................... 335
Figure 16: Trailing Suction Hopper Dredge ........................................................................................ 335
Figure 17: Dredgers at work at Mischief Reef .................................................................................... 335
Figure 18: Cuarteron Reef, 14 January 2012....................................................................................... 341
Figure 19: Cuarteron Reef, 23 August 2015 ....................................................................................... 341
Figure 20: Fiery Cross Reef, 17 January 2012 .................................................................................... 343
Figure 21: Fiery Cross Reef, 19 October 2015.................................................................................... 343
Figure 22: Gaven Reef (North), 15 January 2012 ............................................................................... 347
Figure 23: Gaven Reef (North), 16 November 2015 ........................................................................... 347
Figure 24: Johnson Reef, 20 March 2013 ........................................................................................... 347
Figure 25: Johnson Reef, 4 November 2015 ....................................................................................... 347
Figure 26: Hughes Reef, 7 February 2010 .......................................................................................... 351
Figure 27: Hughes Reef, 22 September 2015...................................................................................... 351
Figure 28: Subi Reef, 27 July 2012 ..................................................................................................... 353
Figure 29: Subi Reef, 6 November 2015 ............................................................................................. 353
Figure 30: Aerial Photograph of Structure on Mischief Reef ............................................................. 402
Figure 31: Mischief Reef, 24 January 2012 ........................................................................................ 405
Figure 32: Mischief Reef, 19 October 2015 ........................................................................................ 405

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GLOSSARY OF DEFINED TERMS

Term

Definition

1948 Map

The map showing the location of the various islands in the South Sea,
published by the Boundary Department of the Ministry of Interior of the
Republic of China in 1948

1958 Convention on
the Continental Shelf

Convention on the Continental Shelf, Art. 1, 25 April 1958, 499 UNTS 311

Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, Art. 10,
1958 Convention on
the Territorial Sea and 29 April 1958, 516 UNTS 205
the Contiguous Zone
1994 Study

T.C. Huang, et. al., “The Flora of Taipingtao (Itu Aba Island),” Taiwania,
Vol. 39, No. 1-2 (1994)

2009 Map

The map appended to Notes Verbales from the Permanent Mission of the
People’s Republic of China to the Secretary-General of the United Nations
(7 May 2009)

Affidavit of R.Z.
Comandante

Affidavit of Mr. Richard Comandante (12 November 2015)

Affidavit of T.D.
Forones

Affidavit of Mr. Tolomeo Forones (12 November 2015)

Affidavit of M.C.
Lanog

Affidavit of Mr. Miguel Lanog (12 November 2015)

Affidavit of J.P.
Legaspi

Affidavit of Mr. Jowe Legaspi (12 November 2015)

Affidavit of C.D.
Talatagod

Affidavit of Mr. Crispen Talatagod (12 November 2015)

Affidavit of C.O.
Taneo

Affidavit of Mr. Cecilio Taneo (12 November 2015)

Allen Report

Report of Professor Craig H. Allen (19 March 2014)

Arunco Report of
28 May 2012

Report from A.A. Arunco, et al., FRPLEU-QRT Officers, Bureau of
Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Republic of the Philippines, to the
Director, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Republic of the
Philippines (28 May 2012)

Area 3

Offshore petroleum block tendered on 30 June 2011, as part of the Fourth
Philippine Energy Contracting Round (PECR 4)

Area 4

Offshore petroleum block tendered on 30 June 2011, as part of the Fourth
Philippine Energy Contracting Round (PECR 4)

ASEAN

Association of Southeast Asian Nations

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Term

Definition

Award on Jurisdiction

The Tribunal’s Award on Jurisdiction and Admissibility, dated 29 October
2015

CBD

Convention on Biological Diversity, 5 June 1992, 1760 UNTS 79

China

The People’s Republic of China

China’s 2006
Declaration

The Declaration of the People’s Republic of China under Article 298 of
the Convention, dated 25 August 2006, that China “does not accept any of
the procedures provided for in Section 2 of Part XV of the Convention
with respect to all the categories of disputes referred to in paragraph 1 (a),
(b) and (c) of Article 298 of the Convention.”

China’s Position
Paper

The Position Paper of the Government of the People’s Republic of China on
the Matter of Jurisdiction in the South China Sea Arbitration Initiated by the
Republic of the Philippines, published by China on 7 December 2014

Chinese Embassy

The Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Kingdom of the
Netherlands

CITES

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna
and Flora, 3 March 1973, 993 UNTS 243

CLCS

Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf

CMS

China Marine Surveillance

CNOOC

China National Offshore Oil Corporation

COLREGS

Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at
Sea, 20 October 1972, 1050 UNTS 1976

Convention

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 10 December 1982,
1833 UNTS 3 (or “UNCLOS”)

DOC

2002 China–ASEAN Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South
China Sea, 4 November 2002

EIA

Environmental impact assessment

FAO

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Ferse Report

Dr. rer. Nat. Sebastian C.A. Ferse, Professor Peter Mumby, PhD and
Dr. Selina Ward, PhD, Assessment of the Potential Environmental
Consequences of Construction Activities on Seven Reefs in the Spratly
Islands in the South China Sea (26 April 2016)

First Bailey Report

Dr. Ryan T. Bailey, Groundwater Resources Analysis of Itu Aba
(9 March 2016)

First Carpenter
Report

Professor Kent E. Carpenter, Eastern South China Sea Environmental
Disturbances and Irresponsible Fishing Practices and their Effects on
Coral Reefs and Fisheries (22 March 2014)

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Term

Definition

First Motavalli Report

Dr. Peter P. Motavalli, Soil Resources and Potential Self-Sustaining
Agricultural Production on Itu Aba (9 March 2016)

FLEC

Fisheries Law Enforcement Command of China

Forum Energy

Forum Energy Plc

GSEC101

Geophysical Survey and Exploration Contract 101 block (a Philippine
offshore petroleum block)

Hainan Regulation

People’s Republic of China, Hainan Province, Hainan Provincial
Regulation on the Control of Coastal Border Security (31 December 2012)

Hearing on
Jurisdiction

The Hearing held from 7 to 13 July 2015 to consider the matter of the
Tribunal’s Jurisdiction and, as necessary, the admissibility of the
Philippines’ Submissions

Hearing on the Merits

The Hearing held from 24 to 30 to November 2015 to consider any
outstanding issues of the Tribunal’s jurisdiction and admissibility and the
merits of the Philippines’ Submissions.

IHO

International Hydrographic Organization

ISA

International Seabed Authority

IUCN

International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

IUU

illegal, unreported, and unregulated (fishing)

Malaysia’s
Communication

Communication from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia to the
Tribunal, (23 June 2016)

McManus Report

Professor John W. McManus, Offshore Coral Reef Damage, Overfishing
and Paths to Peace in the South China Sea (rev. ed., 21 April 2016)

Mora Report

Professor Camilo Mora, Dr. Iain R. Caldwell, Professor Charles
Birkeland, and Professor John W. McManus, “Dredging in the Spratly
Islands: Gaining Land but Losing Reefs,” PLoS Biology Vol. 14(3)
(31 March 2016)

Memorial

The Memorial of the Philippines, filed on 30 March 2014

Nido

Nido Petroleum Ltd.

Parties

The Republic of the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China

PCA

The Permanent Court of Arbitration (or “Registry”)

Philippines

The Republic of the Philippines

PNOC

PNOC Exploration Corporation

Registry

The Permanent Court of Arbitration (or “PCA”)

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Term

Definition

Request for Further
Written Argument

The Tribunal’s Request for Further Written Argument by the Philippines
Pursuant to Article 25(2) of the Rules of Procedure, annexed to Procedural
Order No. 3 (16 December 2014)

SARV Coastguard
Report of 28 April
2012

Report from Commanding Officer, SARV-003, Philippine Coast Guard, to
Commander, Coast Guard District Northwestern Luzon, Philippine Coast
Guard (28 April 2012)

SC58

Service Contract 58 (a Philippine offshore petroleum block)

SC72

Service Contract 72 (a Philippine offshore petroleum block)

Schofield Report

Professor Clive Schofield, Professor J.R.V. Prescott, and Mr Robert van
de Poll, An Appraisal of the Geographical Characteristics and Status of
Certain Insular Features in the South China Sea (March 2015)

Second Bailey Report

Dr. Ryan T. Bailey, Supplemental Report on Groundwater Resources
Analysis of Itu Aba (20 April 2016)

Second Carpenter
Report

Professor Kent E. Carpenter and Professor Loke Ming Chou,
Environmental Consequences of Land Reclamation Activities on Various
Reefs in the South China Sea (14 November 2015)

Second Motavalli
Report

Dr. Peter P. Motavalli, Second Supplemental Expert Report on Soil
Resources and Potential Self-Sustaining Agricultural Production on Itu
Aba (2 June 2016)

Singhota Report

Captain Gurpreet S. Singhota, Report of the International Navigational
Safety Expert appointed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, The
Hague, The Netherlands (15 April 2016)

SOA

The State Oceanic Administration of China

SOA Report

Feng Aiping and Wang Yongzhi, First Ocean Research Institution of State
Oceanic Administration, “Construction Activities at Nansha Reefs Did
Not Affect the Coral Reef Ecosystem” (10 June 2015)

SOA Statement

State Oceanic Administration of China, “Construction Work at Nansha
Reefs Will Not Harm Oceanic Ecosystems” (18 June 2015)

Sterling Energy

Sterling Energy Plc

Submissions

The Submissions of the Philippines set out at pp. 271-272 of its Memorial,
re-stated during the Hearing on the Merits and in a Letter from the
Philippines to the Tribunal on 30 November 2015, as amended with leave
of the Tribunal granted on 16 December 2015

Supplemental Written
Submission

The Supplemental Written Submission of the Philippines, filed on
16 March 2015, pursuant to Article 25 of the Rules of Procedure and
Procedural Order No. 3

Third Carpenter
Report

Declaration of Professor K.E. Carpenter, para. 5 (24 April 2016)

xvi

The South China Sea Arbitration
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Term

Definition

Third UN Conference

Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea

UKHO

United Kingdom Hydrographic Office

UNCLOS

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 10 December 1982,
1833 UNTS 3 (or “Convention”)

UNEP

United Nations Environment Programme

Vienna Convention

Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Art. 33(1), 22 May 1969,
1155 UNTS 331

Viet Nam

Socialist Republic of Viet Nam

Viet Nam’s Statement

Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam for the Attention
of the Tribunal in the Proceedings between the Republic of the Philippines
and the People’s Republic of China (14 December 2014)

Written Responses of
the Philippines
(23 July 2015)

Written Responses of the Philippines to the Tribunal’s 13 July 2015
Questions (23 July 2015)

Written Responses of
the Philippines
(11 March 2016)

Written Responses of the Philippines to the Tribunal’s 5 February 2016
Request for Comments (11 March 2016)

Written Responses of
the Philippines on Itu
Aba (25 April 2016)

Responses of the Philippines to the Tribunal’s 1 April 2016 Request for
Comments on Additional Materials regarding the Status of Itu Aba
(25 April 2016)

Written Responses of
the Philippines on
UKHO Materials
(28 April 2016)

Responses of the Philippines to the Tribunal’s 1 April 2016 Request for
Comments on Materials from the Archives of the United Kingdom
Hydrographic Office (28 April 2016)

Written Responses of
the Philippines on
French Archive
Materials
(3 June 2016)

Responses of the Philippines to the Tribunal’s 26 May 2016 Request for
Comments on Materials from the French Archives (3 June 2016)

xvii

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xviii

The South China Sea Arbitration
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GLOSSARY OF GEOGRAPHIC NAMES MENTIONED IN THIS AWARD
For ease of reference, and without prejudice to any State’s claims, the Tribunal uses throughout this
Award the common English designation for the following geographic features, the Filipino
translations for which come from the Philippine National Mapping and Resource Information Agency,
Philippine Coast Pilot (6th ed., 1995) (Annex 230) and the Philippines’ Submissions, and the Chinese
translations for which come from the Navigation Guarantee Department of the Chinese Navy
Headquarters, China Sailing Directions: South China Sea (A103) (2011) (Annex 232(bis)).
As discussed at paragraph 482 below, the name of a feature as an bank, cay, island, reef, or shoal has
no bearing on the Tribunal’s determination of the status of those features under the Convention.

English Name

Chinese Name

Filipino Name

Amboyna Cay

Anbo Shazhou
安波沙洲

Kalantiyaw Cay

Cuarteron Reef

Huayang Jiao
华阳礁

Calderon Reef

Fiery Cross Reef

Yongshu Jiao
永暑礁

Kagitingan Reef

Flat Island

Feixin Dao
费信岛

Patag Island

Gaven Reefs

Nanxun Jiao
南薰礁

Burgos Reefs

Hughes Reef

Dongmen Jiao
东门礁

Chigua Reef (the Philippines
refers to McKennan and
Hughes Reefs as a single
feature)

Itu Aba Island

Taiping Dao
太平岛

Ligaw Island

Johnson Reef

Chigua Jiao
赤瓜礁

Mabini Reef

Lankiam Cay

Yangxin Shazhou
杨信沙洲

Panata Island

Loaita Island

Nanyue Dao
南钥岛

Kota Island

Macclesfield Bank

Zhongsha Qundao
中沙群岛

Macclesfield Bank

McKennan Reef

Ximen Jiao
西门礁

Chigua Reef (the Philippines
refers to McKennan and
Hughes Reefs as a single
feature)
xix

The South China Sea Arbitration
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English Name

Chinese Name

Filipino Name

Mischief Reef

Meiji Jiao
美济礁

Panganiban Reef

Namyit Island

Hongxiu Dao
鸿庥岛

Binago Island

Nanshan Island

Mahuan Dao
马欢岛

Lawak Island

North-East Cay

Beizi Dao
北子岛

Parola Island

Reed Bank

Liyue Tan
礼乐滩

Recto Bank

Sand Cay

Dunqian Shazhou
敦谦沙洲

Bailan Cay

Scarborough Shoal

Huangyan Dao
黄岩岛

Panatag Shoal or
Bajo de Masinloc

Second Thomas Shoal

Ren’ai Jiao
仁爱礁

Ayungin Shoal

Sin Cowe Island

Jinghong Dao
景宏岛

Rurok Island

South China Sea

Nan Hai
南海

West Philippine Sea

South-West Cay

Nanzi Dao
南子岛

Pugad Island

Spratly Island

Nanwei Dao
南威岛

Lagos Island

Spratly Island Group
(Spratly Islands or Spratlys)

Nansha Qundao
南沙群岛

Kalayaan Island Group
(Kalayaan Islands)

Subi Reef

Zhubi Jiao
渚碧礁

Zamora Reef

Swallow Reef

Danwan Jiao
弹丸礁

Celerio Reef

Thitu Island

Zhongye Dao
中业岛

Pagasa Island

West York Island

Xiyue Dao
西月岛

Likas Island

xx

The South China Sea Arbitration
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I.

INTRODUCTION

1.

The Parties to this arbitration are the Republic of the Philippines (the “Philippines”) and the
People’s Republic of China (“China”) (together, the “Parties”).

2.

This arbitration concerns disputes between the Parties regarding the legal basis of maritime
rights and entitlements in the South China Sea, the status of certain geographic features in the
South China Sea, and the lawfulness of certain actions taken by China in the South China Sea.

3.

The South China Sea is a semi-enclosed sea in the western Pacific Ocean, spanning an area of
almost 3.5 million square kilometres, and is depicted in Map 1 on page 9 below. The South
China Sea lies to the south of China; to the west of the Philippines; to the east of Viet Nam; and
to the north of Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, and Indonesia. The South China Sea is a crucial
shipping lane, a rich fishing ground, home to a highly biodiverse coral reef ecosystem, and
believed to hold substantial oil and gas resources. The southern portion of the South China Sea
is also the location of the Spratly Islands, a constellation of small islands and coral reefs,
existing just above or below water, that comprise the peaks of undersea mountains rising from
the deep ocean floor. Long known principally as a hazard to navigation and identified on
nautical charts as the “dangerous ground”, the Spratly Islands are the site of longstanding
territorial disputes among some of the littoral States of the South China Sea.

4.

The basis for this arbitration is the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
(the “Convention” or “UNCLOS”). 1 Both the Philippines and China are parties to the
Convention, the Philippines having ratified it on 8 May 1984, and China on 7 June 1996. The
Convention was adopted as a “constitution for the oceans,” in order to “settle all issues relating
to the law of the sea,” and has been ratified by 168 parties. The Convention addresses a wide
range of issues and includes as an integral part a system for the peaceful settlement of disputes.
This system is set out in Part XV of the Convention, which provides for a variety of dispute
settlement procedures, including compulsory arbitration in accordance with a procedure
contained in Annex VII to the Convention. It was pursuant to Part XV of, and Annex VII to,
the Convention that the Philippines commenced this arbitration against China on 22 January
2013.

5.

The Convention, however, does not address the sovereignty of States over land territory.
Accordingly, this Tribunal has not been asked to, and does not purport to, make any ruling as to

1

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 10 December 1982, 1833 UNTS 3 (hereinafter
“Convention”). Throughout this Award, references to particular Articles are to the Convention unless
stated otherwise.

1

The South China Sea Arbitration
Award of 12 July 2016

which State enjoys sovereignty over any land territory in the South China Sea, in particular with
respect to the disputes concerning sovereignty over the Spratly Islands or Scarborough Shoal.
None of the Tribunal’s decisions in this Award are dependent on a finding of sovereignty, nor
should anything in this Award be understood to imply a view with respect to questions of land
sovereignty.
6.

Similarly, although the Convention does contain provisions concerning the delimitation of
maritime boundaries, China made a declaration in 2006 to exclude maritime boundary
delimitation from its acceptance of compulsory dispute settlement, something the Convention
expressly permits for maritime boundaries and certain other matters. Accordingly, the Tribunal
has not been asked to, and does not purport to, delimit any maritime boundary between the
Parties or involving any other State bordering on the South China Sea. To the extent that
certain of the Philippines’ claims relate to events at particular locations in the South China Sea,
the Tribunal will address them only insofar as the two Parties’ respective rights and obligations
are not dependent on any maritime boundary or where no delimitation of a boundary would be
necessary because the application of the Convention would not lead to any overlap of the two
Parties’ respective entitlements.

7.

The disputes that the Philippines has placed before the Tribunal fall broadly within four
categories. First, the Philippines has asked the Tribunal to resolve a dispute between the Parties
concerning the source of maritime rights and entitlements in the South China Sea. Specifically,
the Philippines seeks a declaration from the Tribunal that China’s rights and entitlements in the
South China Sea must be based on the Convention and not on any claim to historic rights. In
this respect, the Philippines seeks a declaration that China’s claim to rights within the
‘nine-dash line’ marked on Chinese maps are without lawful effect to the extent that they
exceed the entitlements that China would be permitted by the Convention.

8.

Second, the Philippines has asked the Tribunal to resolve a dispute between the Parties
concerning the entitlements to maritime zones that would be generated under the Convention by
Scarborough Shoal and certain maritime features in the Spratly Islands that are claimed by both
the Philippines and China.

The Convention provides that submerged banks and low-tide

elevations are incapable on their own of generating any entitlements to maritime areas and that
“[r]ocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own” do not generate
an entitlement to an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles or to a continental shelf.
The Philippines seeks a declaration that all of the features claimed by China in the Spratly
Islands, as well as Scarborough Shoal, fall within one or the other of these categories and that

2

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none of these features generates an entitlement to an exclusive economic zone or to a
continental shelf.
9.

Third, the Philippines has asked the Tribunal to resolve a series of disputes between the Parties
concerning the lawfulness of China’s actions in the South China Sea. The Philippines seeks
declarations that China has violated the Convention by:
(a)

interfering with the exercise of the Philippines’ rights under the Convention, including
with respect to fishing, oil exploration, navigation, and the construction of artificial
islands and installations;

(b)

failing to protect and preserve the marine environment by tolerating and actively
supporting Chinese fishermen in the harvesting of endangered species and the use of
harmful fishing methods that damage the fragile coral reef ecosystem in the South China
Sea; and

(c)

inflicting severe harm on the marine environment by constructing artificial islands and
engaging in extensive land reclamation at seven reefs in the Spratly Islands.

10.

Fourth, the Philippines has asked the Tribunal to find that China has aggravated and extended
the disputes between the Parties during the course of this arbitration by restricting access to a
detachment of Philippine marines stationed at Second Thomas Shoal and by engaging in the
large-scale construction of artificial islands and land reclamation at seven reefs in the Spratly
Islands.

11.

China has consistently rejected the Philippines’ recourse to arbitration and adhered to a position
of neither accepting nor participating in these proceedings. It has articulated this position in
public statements and in many diplomatic Notes Verbales, both to the Philippines and to the
Permanent Court of Arbitration (the “PCA” or the “Registry”), which serves as the Registry in
this arbitration. China’s Foreign Ministry has also highlighted in its statements, press briefings,
and interviews that it considers non-participation in the arbitration to be its lawful right under
the Convention.

12.

The possibility of a party refraining from participating in dispute resolution proceedings is
expressly addressed by the Convention, which provides in Article 9 of its Annex VII that the
“[a]bsence of a party or failure of a party to defend its case shall not constitute a bar to the
proceedings.” The Tribunal has thus held that China’s non-participation does not prevent the
arbitration from continuing. The Tribunal has also observed that China is still a Party to the
arbitration and, pursuant to the terms of Article 296(1) of the Convention and Article 11 of
3

The South China Sea Arbitration
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Annex VII, shall be bound by any award the Tribunal issues.

The situation of a

non-participating Party, however, imposes a special responsibility on the Tribunal. It cannot, in
China’s absence, simply accept the Philippines’ claims or enter a default judgment. Rather,
Article 9 requires the Tribunal, before making its award, to satisfy itself “not only that it has
jurisdiction over the dispute but also that the claim is well founded in fact and law.”
13.

Despite its decision not to appear formally at any point in these proceedings, China has taken
steps to informally make clear its view that the Tribunal lacks jurisdiction to consider any of the
Philippines’ claims. On 7 December 2014, China’s Foreign Ministry published a “Position
Paper of the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the Matter of Jurisdiction in the
South China Sea Arbitration Initiated by the Republic of the Philippines” (“China’s Position
Paper”). 2 In its Position Paper, China argued that the Tribunal lacks jurisdiction because
(a) “[t]he essence of the subject-matter of the arbitration is the territorial sovereignty over the
relevant maritime features in the South China Sea”; (b) “China and the Philippines have agreed,
through bilateral instruments and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China
Sea, to settle their relevant disputes through negotiations”; and (c) the disputes submitted by the
Philippines “would constitute an integral part of maritime delimitation between the two
countries.” The Chinese Ambassador to the Netherlands has also sent several communications
to the individual members of the Tribunal, directly and via the Registry, to draw certain
statements of Foreign Ministry officials and others to the attention of the arbitrators, while at the
same time making clear that such communications should not be interpreted as China’s
participation in the arbitral proceedings.

14.

The Tribunal decided to treat the Position Paper and communications from China as equivalent
to an objection to jurisdiction and to conduct a separate hearing and rule on its jurisdiction as a
preliminary question, except insofar as an issue of jurisdiction “does not possess an exclusively
preliminary character.”

The Tribunal issued its Award on Jurisdiction and Admissibility

(the “Award on Jurisdiction”) on 29 October 2015, addressing the objections to jurisdiction
set out in China’s Position Paper, as well as other questions concerning the scope of the
Tribunal’s jurisdiction. In its Award on Jurisdiction, the Tribunal reached conclusions with
respect to seven of the Philippines’ fifteen Submissions while deferring decisions on seven other
Submissions for further consideration in conjunction with the merits of the Philippines’ claims.
The Tribunal also requested the Philippines to clarify one of its Submissions. Those questions

2

Position Paper of the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the Matter of Jurisdiction in the
South China Sea Arbitration Initiated by the Republic of the Philippines (7 December 2014), available at
<www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805/t1217147.shtml> (hereinafter “China’s Position Paper”).

4

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regarding the scope of the Tribunal’s jurisdiction that were not decided in the Award on
Jurisdiction have all been considered and are addressed in the course of this Award.
15.

The Tribunal outlined in its Award on Jurisdiction the steps it took to satisfy itself of its
jurisdiction, including treating China’s communications as a plea on jurisdiction, bifurcating the
dispute to have a separate hearing and exchange of questions and answers on issues of
jurisdiction and admissibility, probing the Philippines on jurisdictional questions beyond even
those in China’s Position Paper, and in relation to the seven matters not decided in the Award
on Jurisdiction, deferring for later consideration those jurisdictional issues so intertwined with
the merits that they lacked an exclusively preliminary character. In the merits phase of the
dispute, as set out in more detail elsewhere in this Award, the Tribunal has been particularly
vigilant with respect to establishing whether the Philippines’ claims are well founded in fact and
law. It has done so, for example, by retaining independent experts on technical matters raised
by the Philippines’ pleadings; inviting comments from both Parties on materials that were not
originally part of the record submitted to the Tribunal by the Philippines; and posing questions
to the Philippines’ counsel and experts before, during, and after the hearing on the merits that
was held in The Hague from 24 to 30 November 2015. While China did not attend the hearing,
it was provided with daily transcripts and all documents submitted during the course of the
hearing and was given an opportunity to comment thereon. In addition to a large delegation
from the Philippines, representatives from Australia, the Republic of Indonesia, Japan,
Malaysia, Singapore, the Kingdom of Thailand, and the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam
attended the hearing as observers.

16.

In this Award, the Tribunal addresses those matters of jurisdiction and admissibility that
remained outstanding after the Award on Jurisdiction, as well as the merits of those of the
Philippines’ claims for which the Tribunal has jurisdiction. The Award is structured as follows.

17.

Chapter II sets out the procedural history of the arbitration, focusing on the events which
postdate the issuance of the Award on Jurisdiction. The Chapter demonstrates that, in line with
the Tribunal’s duty under Article 5 of Annex VII to “assure each party a full opportunity to be
heard and to present its case,” the Tribunal has communicated to both Parties all developments
in this arbitration and provided them with the opportunity to comment on substance and
procedure.

The Tribunal has consistently reminded China that it remained open to it to

participate at any stage, and has taken note of its Position Paper, public statements, and multiple
communications from its Ambassador to the Netherlands. The Tribunal has also taken steps, in
line with its duty under Article 10 of the Rules of Procedure, to “avoid unnecessary delay and
expense and to provide a fair and efficient process for resolving the Parties’ dispute.”

5

The South China Sea Arbitration
Award of 12 July 2016

18.

Chapter III sets out the Philippines’ requests for relief, including the fifteen final Submissions
as amended on 30 November 2015, with leave from the Tribunal communicated on
16 December 2015.

This Chapter notes that while China has not participated in the

proceedings, the Tribunal has sought to discern from China’s official statements its position on
each of the Philippines’ claims.
19.

Chapter IV covers preliminary matters. It details the legal and practical consequences of
China’s non-participation, summarises and incorporates the findings in the Award on
Jurisdiction, and addresses the status and effect of that Award and China’s reaction to it.

20.

In Chapter V, the Tribunal considers the Philippines’ requests for a declaration that the Parties’
respective rights and obligations in regard to the waters, seabed, and maritime features of the
South China Sea are governed by the Convention (the Philippines’ Submission No. 1), and for a
declaration that China’s claims to sovereign and historic rights with respect to the maritime
areas encompassed by the ‘nine-dash line’ are contrary to the Convention and therefore without
lawful effect (the Philippines’ Submission No. 2).

21.

In Chapter VI, the Tribunal addresses the Philippines’ requests concerning the status of, and
maritime entitlements generated by, certain maritime features in the South China Sea
(the Philippines’ Submissions No. 3 to 7), namely Cuarteron Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, the Gaven
Reefs, Johnson Reef, Hughes Reef, McKennan Reef, Mischief Reef, Scarborough Shoal,
Second Thomas Shoal, and Subi Reef.

In arriving at its decisions on Submissions

No. 3, 5 and 7, the Tribunal also addresses in Chapter VI whether any feature in the Spratly
Islands constitutes a fully entitled island, capable in its natural condition of sustaining human
habitation or an economic life of its own within the meaning of Article 121(3) of the
Convention, such as to be entitled to potential maritime zones that could overlap with those of
the Philippines.
22.

In Chapter VII, the Tribunal considers the various allegations by the Philippines that China has
violated provisions of the Convention, including with respect to:
(a)

China’s interference with the Philippines’ sovereign rights over non-living and living
resources (the Philippines’ Submission No. 8);

(b)

China’s failure to prevent exploitation of the Philippines’ living resources by Chinese
fishing vessels (the Philippines’ Submission No. 9);

(c)

China’s interference with the traditional fishing activities of Philippine fishermen at
Scarborough Shoal (the Philippines’ Submission No. 10);
6

The South China Sea Arbitration
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(d)

China’s failure to protect and preserve the marine environment through (a) its tolerance
and active support of Chinese fishing vessels harvesting endangered species and engaging
in harmful fishing methods; and (b) its extensive land reclamation, artificial
island-building, and construction activities at seven coral reefs in the Spratly Islands
(the Philippines’ Submissions No. 11 and 12(b));

(e)

China’s construction of artificial islands, installations, and structures at Mischief Reef
without the Philippines’ authorisation (the Philippines’ Submissions No. 12(a) and 12(c));
and

(f)

China’s operation of its law enforcement vessels in such a way as to create serious risk of
collision and danger to Philippine vessels in the vicinity of Scarborough Shoal during two
incidents in April and May 2012 (the Philippines’ Submission No. 13).

23.

In Chapter VIII, the Tribunal considers the Philippines’ claim that China has, through its
activities near Second Thomas Shoal and its artificial island-building activities at seven coral reefs
in the Spratly Islands, aggravated and extended the Parties’ disputes since the commencement of
the arbitration (the Philippines’ Submission No. 14).

24.

Chapter IX examines the Philippines’ Submission No. 15 on the future conduct of the Parties and
discusses the obligations on both Parties going forward to resolve their disputes peacefully and to
comply with the Convention and this Award in good faith.

25.

Chapter X sets out the Tribunal’s formal decisions.

*

*

7

*

The South China Sea Arbitration
Award of 12 July 2016

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8

The South China Sea Arbitration
Award of 12 July 2016

105°E

110°E

115°E

120°E

25°N

25°N

Legend
Coral Reef (shallow/uncovering)

CHINA

Coral Reef (submerged)

Taiwan

Pratas
Reef
20°N

20°N

Pratas I.

Gulf of
Tonkin

Hainan

Luzon

Paracel
Islands
Macclesfield
Bank
(submerged)

THAILAND

Scarborough
Shoal

THE
PHILIPPINES

SOUTH
CHINA
SEA

VIETNAM
CAMBODIA

15°N

15°N

LAOS

Mindoro

Spratly
Islands

10°N

10°N

Reed
Bank

Palawan

Sulu
Sea

5°N

5°N

BRUNEI

MALAYSIA

SINGAPORE

INDONESIA

105°E

110°E

115°E

THE SOUTH CHINA SEA
100

0

200

400

Kilometers

120°E

Map 1

Nautical Miles
200

Borneo

MALAYSIA

Celebes
Sea

Projection / Datum:
Mercator / WGS84

Coral Reef data from ‘Global Distribution of Coral Reefs’
UNEP-WCMC, WorldFish Centre, WRI
and TNC (The Nature Conservancy) (2010).
http://datadownload.unep-wcmc.org/requests/new?dataset=WCMC008_CoralReef2010_v1_3

200 100
0
200
400
Nominal Scale at Latitude 15°N - 1:15,570,000

This map is for illustrative purposes only.

9

The South China Sea Arbitration
Award of 12 July 2016

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10

The South China Sea Arbitration
Award of 12 July 2016

II.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

26.

The Award on Jurisdiction recounts in detail the procedural history of the arbitration from its
commencement up until the date on which the Award on Jurisdiction was issued. In this
Award, the Tribunal will focus on procedural events which occurred after the issuance of the
Award on Jurisdiction.

27.

Article 5 of Annex VII to the Convention provides that the Tribunal has a duty to “assur[e] to
each party a full opportunity to be heard and to present its case.” In line with this duty, and as
the procedural history chapters in both Awards demonstrate, the Tribunal has communicated to
the Philippines and China all developments in this arbitration and provided them with the
opportunity to comment on substance and procedure. The Tribunal consistently reminded
China that it remained open to it to participate in these proceedings at any stage. It has also
taken steps to ensure that the Philippines is not disadvantaged by China’s non-appearance and
has conducted the proceedings in line with its duty under Article 10(1) of the Rules of
Procedure, “so as to avoid unnecessary delay and expense and to provide a fair and efficient
process for resolving the Parties’ dispute.”

A.

INITIATION OF THE ARBITRATION

28.

By Notification and Statement of Claim dated 22 January 2013, the Philippines initiated
arbitration proceedings against China pursuant to Articles 286 and 287 of the Convention and in
accordance with Article 1 of Annex VII of the Convention. The Philippines stated that it seeks
an Award that:
(1)

declares that the Parties’ respective rights and obligations in regard to the waters,
seabed and maritime features of the South China Sea are governed by UNCLOS,
and that China’s claims based on its “nine dash line” are inconsistent with the
Convention and therefore invalid;

(2)

determines whether, under Article 121 of UNCLOS, certain of the maritime features
claimed by both China and the Philippines are islands, low tide elevations or
submerged banks, and whether they are capable of generating entitlement to
maritime zones greater than 12 M; and

(3)

enables the Philippines to exercise and enjoy the rights within and beyond its
exclusive economic zone and continental shelf that are established in the
Convention.3

The Philippines stressed that it:
does not seek in this arbitration a determination of which Party enjoys sovereignty over the
islands claimed by both of them. Nor does it request a delimitation of any maritime
3

Notification and Statement of Claim of the Republic of the Philippines, 22 January 2013, para. 6
(Annex 1).

11

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Award of 12 July 2016

boundaries. The Philippines is conscious of China’s Declaration of 25 August 2006 under
Article 298 of UNCLOS, and has avoided raising subjects or making claims that China has,
by virtue of that Declaration, excluded from arbitral jurisdiction.4

29.

In response, China presented a Note Verbale to the Department of Foreign Affairs of the
Philippines on 19 February 2013, rejecting the arbitration and returning the Notification and
Statement of Claim to the Philippines.5 In its Note Verbale, China stated that its position on the
South China Sea issues “has been consistent and clear” and that “[a]t the core of the disputes
between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea are the territorial disputes over some
islands and reefs of the Nansha Islands.” China noted that “[t]he two countries also have
overlapping jurisdictional claims over parts of the maritime area in the South China Sea” and
that both sides had agreed to settle the dispute through bilateral negotiations and friendly
consultations.

B.

CONSTITUTION OF THE TRIBUNAL AND APPOINTMENT OF THE PCA AS REGISTRY

30.

As detailed in the Award on Jurisdiction, the Philippines appointed Judge Rüdiger Wolfrum, a
German national, as a member of the Tribunal in accordance with Article 3(b) of Annex VII to
the Convention. As China did not appoint an arbitrator, the President of the International
Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, pursuant to Articles 3(c) and 3(e) of Annex VII to the
Convention, appointed Judge Stanislaw Pawlak, a national of Poland, as the second arbitrator.
In accordance with Articles 3(d) and 3(e) of Annex VII to the Convention, the President of the
International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea also appointed the remaining three arbitrators,
namely Judge Jean-Pierre Cot, a national of France; Professor Alfred H.A. Soons, a national of
the Netherlands; and as the Presiding Arbitrator, Judge Thomas A. Mensah, a national of
Ghana. The present Tribunal was constituted on 21 June 2013.

31.

On 12 July 2013, the Tribunal issued Administrative Directive No. 1, pursuant to which the
Tribunal appointed the Permanent Court of Arbitration as Registry and set in place
arrangements for a deposit to cover fees and expenses. On 15 July 2013, the Secretary-General
of the PCA informed the Tribunal and the Parties that Ms. Judith Levine, PCA Senior Legal
Counsel, had been appointed to serve as Registrar. Copies of Administrative Directive No. 1, as
with all subsequent documents issued by the Tribunal and correspondence issued on its behalf
by the Registry, were transmitted to the Agent and Counsel for the Philippines, and the Embassy
of the People’s Republic of China in the Kingdom of the Netherlands (the “Chinese

4

5

Notification and Statement of Claim of the Republic of the Philippines, 22 January 2013, para. 7
(Annex 1).
Note Verbale from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Manila to the Department of
Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, No. (13) PG-039, 19 February 2013 (Annex 3).

12

The South China Sea Arbitration
Award of 12 July 2016

Embassy”).

Throughout the proceedings, the Chinese Embassy has returned the

communications and reiterated that “it will neither accept nor participate in the arbitration
unilaterally initiated by the Philippines.”
32.

On 27 August 2013, the Tribunal issued Procedural Order No. 1, by which it adopted the Rules
of Procedure and fixed 30 March 2014 as the date for the Philippines to submit a Memorial that
“shall fully address all issues including matters relating to jurisdiction, admissibility, and the
merits of the dispute” (the “Memorial”).

C.

WRITTEN ARGUMENTS

33.

On 11 March 2014, the Tribunal granted leave pursuant to Article 19 of the Rules of Procedure
for the Philippines to amend its Statement of Claim, which added a request to determine the
status of Second Thomas Shoal.6

34.

On 30 March 2014, pursuant to Procedural Order No. 1, the Philippines submitted its Memorial
and accompanying annexes, addressing all aspects of the case including issues of jurisdiction,
admissibility, and the merits. The Memorial concluded with 15 specific submissions setting out
the relief sought by the Philippines (the “Submissions”), which are reproduced in their final and
amended version in Chapter III below.7

35.

On 7 April 2014, the Philippines wrote further to the Tribunal regarding “China’s most recent
actions in and around Second Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal.” This followed an earlier complaint
that the Philippines had submitted to the Tribunal on 18 March 2014 concerning “recent actions
of China to prevent the rotation and resupply of Philippine personnel stationed at Second
Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal.” The Philippines wrote again to the Tribunal on 30 July 2014,
expressing concern about China’s activities at several features in the South China Sea, in
particular the land reclamation at McKennan Reef, Hughes Reef, Johnson Reef, the Gaven
Reefs, and Cuarteron Reef. These complaints to the Tribunal are set out in more detail at
Chapter VIII on aggravation of the dispute.

36.

On 5 December 2014, the Vietnamese Embassy sent to the Tribunal a “Statement of the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam Transmitted to the Arbitral
Tribunal in the Proceedings between the Republic of the Philippines and the People’s Republic

6

7

See Award on Jurisdiction and Admissibility, 29 October 2015, para. 99 (hereinafter “Award on
Jurisdiction”); Amended Notification and Statement of Claim of the Republic of the Philippines, pp. 17-19
(Annex 5).
See Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 100-101; Memorial of the Philippines (30 March 2014), para. 7.157,
pp. 271-272 (hereinafter “Memorial”).

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of China” and annexed documents (“Viet Nam’s Statement”).

Viet Nam’s Statement

requested that the Tribunal give due regard to the position of Viet Nam with respect to:
(a) advocating full observance and implementation of all rules and procedures of the
Convention, including Viet Nam’s position that it has “no doubt that the Tribunal has jurisdiction
in these proceedings”; (b) preserving Viet Nam’s “rights and interests of a legal nature”;
(c) noting that the Philippines does not request this Tribunal to consider issues not subject to its
jurisdiction under Article 288 of the Convention (namely questions of sovereignty and maritime
delimitation); (d) “resolutely protest[ing] and reject[ing]” any claim by China based on the
“nine-dash line”; and (e) supporting the Tribunal’s competence to interpret and apply Articles
60, 80, 194(5), 206, 293(1), and 300 of the Convention and other relevant instruments.
Viet Nam stated that none of the maritime features referred to by the Philippines in these
proceedings can “generate maritime entitlements in excess of 12 nautical miles since they are
low-tide elevations or ‘rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their
own’ under Article 121(3) of the Convention.” Viet Nam reserved “the right to seek to
intervene if it seems appropriate and in accordance with the principles and rules of international
law, including the relevant provisions of UNCLOS.” Viet Nam also asked to receive copies of
all relevant documents in the arbitration.8
37.

On 7 December 2014, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China
published a “Position Paper of the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the Matter
of Jurisdiction in the South China Sea Arbitration Initiated by the Republic of the Philippines,”
copies of which the Chinese Embassy deposited with the PCA for distribution to members of
the Tribunal. 9

The Chinese Embassy expressed in a Note Verbale that “[t]he Chinese

Government reiterates that it will neither accept nor participate in the arbitration unilaterally
initiated by the Philippines. The Chinese Government hereby makes clear that the forwarding
of the aforementioned Position Paper shall not be regarded as China’s acceptance of or its
participation in the arbitration.”
38.

The Tribunal conveyed copies of China’s Position Paper and Viet Nam’s Statement to the
Parties on 11 December 2014 and invited their comments.

8

Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Socialist Republic of
Viet Nam Transmitted to the Arbitral Tribunal in the Proceedings Between the Republic of the
Philippines and the People’s Republic of China, pp. 1-3, 5-6 (14 December 2014) (Annex 468)
(hereinafter “Viet Nam’s Statement”). As noted in the Award on Jurisdiction, the Tribunal had granted
Viet Nam access to copies of the Memorial, after seeking the views of the Parties, on 24 April 2014.

9

By the terms of Procedural Order No. 2, issued by the Tribunal on 2 June 2014, China’s
Counter-Memorial was due by 15 December 2014.

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39.

On 16 December 2014, the Tribunal issued Procedural Order No. 3, which established a
timetable for further written submissions from both Parties and annexed a Request for Further
Written Argument by the Philippines Pursuant to Article 25(2) of the Rules of Procedure (the
“Request for Further Written Argument”). The Request for Further Written Argument
included specific questions relating to admissibility, jurisdiction, and the merits of the dispute
and invited comments on any relevant public statements made by Chinese Government officials
or others.

40.

In a letter accompanying Procedural Order No. 3, the Tribunal invited the Parties’ comments on
certain procedural matters, including (a) the possible bifurcation of the proceedings to address
the Tribunal’s jurisdiction as a preliminary matter, (b) the possible appointment of an expert
hydrographer, (c) the possibility of a site visit as contemplated in Article 22 of the Rules of
Procedure, (d) the appropriate procedure with regard to any amicus curiae submissions that the
Tribunal may receive, and (e) the scheduling of a hearing in July 2015.

41.

On 26 January 2015, the Philippines sent the Tribunal its comments on Viet Nam’s requests,
supporting Viet Nam having access to documents in the interest of transparency. On the same
day, the Philippines also (a) conveyed its position that it opposed bifurcation; (b) supported the
appointment of a technical expert and made suggestions as to the appropriate profile for an
expert; (c) commented that a site visit “would be useful” provided arrangements were made for
it to occur “under secure conditions” but acknowledged the “fact that conducting a site visit in
the context of this case would present certain challenges, not least because of China’s decision
not to participate”; (d) commented that any decision on accepting an amicus curiae submission
would fall within the Tribunal’s inherent power and under Article 1(2) of the Rules of
Procedure and suggested “that each amicus submission should be evaluated on its own merits,
to determine whether there is ‘sufficient reason’ for it to be accepted,” so long as it does not
delay or disrupt the proceedings; and (e) commented on the dates and scope of an oral hearing.

42.

On 6 February 2015, the Chinese Ambassador to the Kingdom of the Netherlands wrote
individually to the members of the Tribunal, setting out “the Chinese Government’s position on
issues relating to the South China Sea arbitration initiated by the Philippines.” The letter
described China’s Position Paper as having “comprehensively explain[ed] why the Arbitral
Tribunal . . . manifestly has no jurisdiction over the case.” The letter also stated that the
Chinese Government “holds an omnibus objection to all procedural applications or steps that
would require some kind of response from China.” The letter further clarified that China’s
non-participation and non-response to any issue raised by the Tribunal “shall not be understood
or interpreted by anyone in any sense as China’s acquiescence in or non-objection to any and all

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procedural or substantive matters already or might be raised by the Arbitral Tribunal.” The
letter further expressed China’s “firm opposition” to some of the procedural items raised in the
Tribunal’s correspondence, such as “intervention by other States,” “amicus curiae
submissions,” and “site visit[s]”. Finally, the letter recalled the commitment of China and
countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (“ASEAN”) to resolving disputes
through consultation and negotiation and expressed the hope that “all relevant actors will act in
a way that contributes to peaceful settlement of the South China Sea disputes, cooperation
among the coastal States of the South China Sea and the maintenance of peace and stability in
the South China Sea.”
43.

On 17 February 2015, the Tribunal authorised the Registry to provide Viet Nam with a copy of
Procedural Order No. 3 and the Tribunal’s accompanying Request for Further Written
Argument. The Tribunal stated that it would address the permissibility of intervention in these
proceedings “only in the event that Viet Nam in fact makes a formal application for such
intervention.”

44.

The Philippines submitted its Supplemental Written Submission and accompanying annexes
(the “Supplemental Written Submission”) on 16 March 2015.

D.

BIFURCATION OF PROCEEDINGS

45.

On 21 April 2015, the Tribunal issued Procedural Order No. 4, in which it considered the
communications of China, including China’s Position Paper, effectively to “constitute a plea
concerning this Arbitral Tribunal’s jurisdiction for the purposes of Article 20 of the Rules of
Procedure.” The Tribunal thus decided to convene a hearing to consider issues of jurisdiction
and admissibility from 7 to 13 July 2015 (the “Hearing on Jurisdiction”). In Procedural Order
No. 4, the Tribunal stated that if it determined after the Hearing on Jurisdiction “that there are
jurisdictional objections that do not possess an exclusively preliminary character, then, in
accordance with Article 20(3) of the Rules of Procedure, such matters will be reserved for
consideration and decision at a later stage of the proceedings.”

46.

On 21 May 2015, the Tribunal received a letter from the Philippines which described China’s
“current[] engage[ment] in a massive land reclamation project at various features in the South
China Sea” as “deeply troubling to the Philippines” and submitted that such actions were in
“violation of the Philippines’ rights and in disregard of . . . China’s duty not to cause serious
harm to the marine environment.” In light of such developments, the Philippines suggested that
a merits hearing be provisionally scheduled at the earliest possible date.

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E.

HEARING ON JURISDICTION AND ADMISSIBILITY

47.

On 2 June 2015, the Tribunal confirmed the schedule for the Hearing on Jurisdiction. The
Tribunal advised that the hearing would not be open to the general public, but that it would
consider allowing representatives of interested States to attend upon receipt of a written request.

48.

No comments had been received from China by 16 June 2015, the date set by Procedural Order
No. 3 for China’s comments on the Philippines’ Supplemental Written Submission.

49.

In line with its duty to satisfy itself that it has jurisdiction, the Tribunal did not limit the hearing
to the issues raised in China’s Position Paper, and on 23 June 2015, the Tribunal sent the Parties
a list of issues as guidance for the Hearing on Jurisdiction.

50.

Throughout June and July 2015, the Tribunal received requests from several States, interested in
the arbitration, for copies of relevant documents and for permission to attend the Hearing on
Jurisdiction. After seeking the views of the Parties on each occasion, the Tribunal granted such
requests from Malaysia, Japan, Viet Nam, Indonesia, Thailand, and Brunei.

51.

On 1 July 2015, the Chinese Ambassador to the Kingdom of the Netherlands sent a second letter
to the members of the Tribunal recalling China’s “consistent policy and practice of [resolving]
the disputes related to territory and maritime rights and interests with States directly concerned
through negotiation and consultation” and noting China’s “legitimate right” under the
Convention not to “accept any imposed solution or any unilateral resorting to a third-party
settlement,” a right that it considered the Philippines breached by initiating the arbitration. The
Ambassador stated that his letters and the Chinese Government’s statements “shall by no means
be interpreted as China’s participation in the arbitral proceeding” and that China “opposes any
moves to initiate and push forward the arbitral proceeding, and does not accept any arbitral
arrangements, including the hearing procedures.”

52.

The Hearing on Jurisdiction took place from 7 to 13 July 2015 at the Peace Palace in
The Hague. A list of attendees is contained in the Award on Jurisdiction. Copies of the daily
transcripts, questions from the Members of the Tribunal, answers from the Philippines and all
materials submitted during the hearing were made available to both Parties. A press release was
issued by the Registry at the close of the hearing and the transcripts were subsequently
published.

53.

On 23 July 2015, the Philippines filed written responses to questions posed by the Tribunal.
China did not respond to the invitation to submit by 17 August 2015, comments on matters
raised during or after the Hearing on Jurisdiction.
17

However, on 24 August 2015, China

The South China Sea Arbitration
Award of 12 July 2016

published “Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s Remarks on the Release of the
Transcript of the Oral Hearing on Jurisdiction by the South China Sea Arbitral Tribunal
Established at the Request of the Philippines.” The spokesperson recalled that China had
“consist[e]ntly expounded its position of neither accepting nor participating in the South China
Sea arbitration unilaterally initiated by the Philippines” and that China’s Position Paper had
“pointed out that the Arbitral Tribunal . . . has no jurisdiction over the case and elaborated on
the legal grounds for China’s non-acceptance and non-participation in the arbitration.”10
F.

PROVISIONAL SCHEDULING OF HEARING ON THE MERITS AND APPOINTMENT OF EXPERT

54.

Article 24(1) of the Arbitral Tribunal’s Rules of Procedure provides:
After seeking the views of the Parties, the Arbitral Tribunal may appoint one or more
independent experts. That expert may be called upon to report on specific issues and in the
manner to be determined by the Arbitral Tribunal. A copy of the expert’s terms of
reference, established by the Arbitral Tribunal, shall be communicated to the Parties.

55.

Previously, in December 2014, the Tribunal had invited the Parties’ views on the utility and
timing of appointing an expert hydrographer, as well as the qualifications appropriate for such
an expert. The Chinese Ambassador’s letter of 6 February 2015 did not expressly address this
question.

The Philippines considered it desirable for the Tribunal to appoint as soon as

convenient a “knowledgeable, independent, and impartial hydrographer” from whose input
“many issues in dispute . . . would benefit significantly.” The Philippines set out a list of
appropriate qualifications.
56.

On 21 April 2015, when the Tribunal issued Procedural Order No. 4 bifurcating proceedings,
the Tribunal invited the Parties’ views as to whether it should, without prejudice to any findings
on jurisdiction and admissibility, proceed to: (a) reserve a period of time within the next 6 to 12
months for a subsequent merits hearing should it become necessary; (b) take steps already to
ascertain the availability of potential technical experts. In so doing, the Tribunal recalled its
duty under Article 10(1) of the Rules of Procedure to “conduct the proceedings so as to avoid
unnecessary delay and expense and to provide a fair and efficient process for resolving the
Parties’ dispute.”

57.

The Philippines, by letter dated 11 May 2015, noted that the week of 23 to 27 November 2015
would be suitable for a hearing on the merits and considered that engaging a technical expert
early would help to avoid unnecessary delay and that no prejudice would be suffered as a result

10

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s
Remarks on the Release of the Transcript of the Oral Hearing on Jurisdiction by the South China Sea
Arbitral Tribunal Established at the Request of the Philippines (24 August 2015), available at
<www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/2535_665405/t1290752.shtml> (Annex 635).

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of an interim engagement in the event that the Tribunal found that it lacked jurisdiction. China
did not comment on either matter.
58.

The Tribunal informed the Parties on 7 August 2015 that, after reviewing a number of
candidates, it proposed to appoint Mr. Grant Boyes (a national of Australia) as the Tribunal’s
expert hydrographer. The Parties were invited to comment on his curriculum vitae, declaration
of independence, and draft Terms of Reference.

The Philippines reported that it had no

objection, but proposed a clarification to the Terms of Reference that “[i]n providing the
Arbitral Tribunal with technical assistance . . . the Expert shall respect that it is the Arbitral
Tribunal, and not the Expert, that makes any determination as to legal questions, in particular
the application of Article 121(3) of the Convention.”

With this clarification, and having

received no comments from China, the Tribunal and Mr. Boyes finalised the appointment.
59.

On 10 September 2015, the Parties were invited to comment on a provisional schedule for a
merits hearing to take place between 24 to 30 November 2015 and also on a request from the
Embassy of the Republic of Singapore in Brussels seeking observer status at any future hearing.
The Philippines agreed with the proposed schedule and, consistent with its position in support of
transparency, expressed that it had no objection to the attendance of a Singaporean delegation at
any future hearings. China did not comment on the proposals and, consistent with its practice
throughout the proceedings, returned the correspondence to the Registry and reiterated its
position of non-acceptance and non-participation.

G.

ISSUANCE OF AWARD ON JURISDICTION AND ADMISSIBILITY

60.

On 29 October 2015, the Tribunal issued its Award on Jurisdiction, the key findings of which
are summarised in Chapter IV below. The Award, which was unanimous, only addressed
matters of jurisdiction and admissibility; it did not address the merits of the Parties’ dispute. In
the dispositif, the Tribunal:
A.

FINDS that the Tribunal was properly constituted in accordance with Annex VII to
the Convention.

B.

FINDS that China’s non-appearance in these proceedings does not deprive the
Tribunal of jurisdiction.

C.

FINDS that the Philippines’ act of initiating this arbitration did not constitute an
abuse of process.

D.

FINDS that there is no indispensable third party whose absence deprives the
Tribunal of jurisdiction.

E.

FINDS that the 2002 China–ASEAN Declaration on Conduct of the Parties in the
South China Sea, the joint statements of the Parties referred to in paragraphs 231 to
232 of this Award, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, and the
Convention on Biological Diversity, do not preclude, under Articles 281 or 282 of

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the Convention, recourse to the compulsory dispute settlement procedures available
under Section 2 of Part XV of the Convention.

61.

F.

FINDS that the Parties have exchanged views as required by Article 283 of the
Convention.

G.

FINDS that the Tribunal has jurisdiction to consider the Philippines’ Submissions
No. 3, 4, 6, 7, 10, 11, and 13, subject to the conditions noted in paragraphs 400, 401,
403, 404, 407, 408, and 410 of this Award.

H.

FINDS that a determination of whether the Tribunal has jurisdiction to consider the
Philippines’ Submissions No. 1, 2, 5, 8, 9, 12, and 14 would involve consideration of
issues that do not possess an exclusively preliminary character, and accordingly
RESERVES consideration of its jurisdiction to rule on Submissions No. 1, 2, 5, 8, 9,
12, and 14 to the merits phase.

I.

DIRECTS the Philippines to clarify the content and narrow the scope of its
Submission 15 and RESERVES consideration of its jurisdiction over Submission
No. 15 to the merits phase.

J.

RESERVES for further consideration and directions all issues not decided in this
Award.11

The Tribunal confirmed that it was ready to proceed in late November with a hearing on the
merits and any outstanding questions of jurisdiction and admissibility (the “Hearing on the
Merits”) and stated that it was willing to make appropriate adjustments to the schedule if China
decided to participate. The Philippines confirmed the schedule, and China did not comment on
it. However, on 30 October 2015, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a “Statement
. . . on the Award on Jurisdiction and Admissibility of the South China Sea Arbitration by the
Arbitral Tribunal Established at the Request of the Republic of the Philippines” as follows:
The award rendered on 29 October 2015 by the Arbitral Tribunal established at the request
of the Republic of the Philippines (hereinafter referred to as the “Arbitral Tribunal”) on
jurisdiction and admissibility of the South China Sea arbitration is null and void, and has no
binding effect on China.
I. China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands and the adjacent
waters. China’s sovereignty and relevant rights in the South China Sea, formed in the long
historical course, are upheld by successive Chinese governments, reaffirmed by China’s
domestic laws on many occasions, and protected under international law including
the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). With regard to the
issues of territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, China will not accept any
solution imposed on it or any unilateral resort to a third-party dispute settlement.
II. The Philippines’ unilateral initiation and obstinate pushing forward of the South China
Sea arbitration by abusing the compulsory procedures for dispute settlement under the
UNCLOS is a political provocation under the cloak of law. It is in essence not an effort to
settle disputes but an attempt to negate China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights
and interests in the South China Sea. In the Position Paper of the Government of the
People’s Republic of China on the Matter of Jurisdiction in the South China Sea Arbitration
Initiated by the Republic of the Philippines, which was released by the Chinese Ministry of
Foreign Affairs on 7 December 2014 upon authorization, the Chinese government pointed
out that the Arbitral Tribunal manifestly has no jurisdiction over the arbitration initiated by
the Philippines, and elaborated on the legal grounds for China’s non-acceptance of and
non-participation in the arbitration. This position is clear and explicit, and will not change.

11

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 413.

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III. As a sovereign state and a State Party to the UNCLOS, China is entitled to choose the
means and procedures of dispute settlement of its own will. China has all along been
committed to resolving disputes with its neighbors over territory and maritime jurisdiction
through negotiations and consultations. Since the 1990s, China and the Philippines have
repeatedly reaffirmed in bilateral documents that they shall resolve relevant disputes
through negotiations and consultations. The Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the
South China Sea (DOC) explicitly states that the sovereign states directly concerned
undertake to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means through
friendly consultations and negotiations. All these documents demonstrate that China and
the Philippines have chosen, long time ago, to settle their disputes in the South China Sea
through negotiations and consultations. The breach of this consensus by the Philippines
damages the basis of mutual trust between states.
IV. Disregarding that the essence of this arbitration case is territorial sovereignty and
maritime delimitation and related matters, maliciously evading the declaration on optional
exceptions made by China in 2006 under Article 298 of the UNCLOS, and negating the
consensus between China and the Philippines on resolving relevant disputes through
negotiations and consultations, the Philippines and the Arbitral Tribunal have abused
relevant procedures and obstinately forced ahead with the arbitration, and as a result, have
severely violated the legitimate rights that China enjoys as a State Party to the UNCLOS,
completely deviated from the purposes and objectives of the UNCLOS, and eroded the
integrity and authority of the UNCLOS. As a State Party to the UNCLOS, China firmly
opposes the acts of abusing the compulsory procedures for dispute settlement under the
UNCLOS, and calls upon all parties concerned to work together to safeguard the integrity
and authority of the UNCLOS.
V. The Philippines’ attempt to negate China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights
and interests in the South China Sea through arbitral proceeding will lead to nothing. China
urges the Philippines to honor its own commitments, respect China’s rights under
international law, change its course and return to the right track of resolving relevant
disputes in the South China Sea through negotiations and consultations. 12

62.

On 6 November 2015, the observer States that had attended the Hearing on Jurisdiction, as well
as Brunei and Singapore, were advised of the schedule for the Hearing on the Merits and that
they could send delegations of up to five representatives as observers.

63.

As it had done before the Hearing on Jurisdiction, the Tribunal provided on 10 November 2015
an “Annex of Issues the Philippines May Wish to Address” as guidance for the Hearing on the
Merits.

64.

On 6 November 2015, the Philippines sought leave to present for examination two experts,
Professor Clive Schofield and Professor Kent Carpenter; and on 14 November 2015, sought
leave to supplement its written pleadings with additional documentary and testimonial evidence
and legal authorities which it intended to reference during the Hearing on the Merits. The
Tribunal invited China’s comments on the requests by 17 November 2015.

12

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of
the People’s Republic of China on the Award on Jurisdiction and Admissibility of the South China Sea
Arbitration by the Arbitral Tribunal Established at the Request of the Republic of the Philippines
(30 October 2015) (Annex 649).

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65.

On 18 November 2015, the Tribunal granted both requests, noting that it had not received
comments from China, and that the requests were reasonable. The Tribunal also invited the
Parties’ comments on whether copies of the 10 November 2015 Annex of Issues could be
provided to observer States who had confirmed attendance at the Hearing on the Merits (namely
Viet Nam, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Indonesia and Singapore).

Finally, the Tribunal

forwarded to the Parties for their comment a Note Verbale from the Embassy of the United
States of America, requesting to send a representative to observe the hearing. The Note Verbale
explained that “[a]s a major coastal and maritime State, and as a State that is continuing to
pursue its domestic Constitutional processes to accede to the United Nations Convention on the
Law of the Sea, the United States has a keen interest in the proceedings in light of the important
legal issues relating to the law of the sea that are the subject of the arbitration.”
66.

The Philippines wrote on 19 November 2015 that it did not object to the U.S. request, nor to
providing the Annex of Issues to observer delegations. The Philippines also submitted the
additional documentary and testimonial evidence and legal authorities for which it had been
granted leave. Copies were provided to the Chinese Embassy.

67.

On 23 November 2015, the Tribunal communicated to the Parties and the U.S. Embassy that it
had decided that “only interested States parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of
the Sea will be admitted as observers” and thus could not accede to the U.S. request. The same
day, the Tribunal received a Note Verbale from the United Kingdom’s Embassy in the
Netherlands applying for “neutral observer status” at the Hearing on the Merits and explaining
that “[a]s a State Party to the [Convention], and with a strong interest in the maintenance of
peace and stability in the South China Sea, underpinned by respect for, and adherence to,
international law, the United Kingdom has been closely following proceedings in the arbitration
and has an ongoing interest in developments.” The request was forwarded to the Parties for
their comment, and the Philippines stated it had no objection to it.

68.

On 24 November 2015, the Tribunal received a request from the Australian Embassy to observe
the Hearing on the Merits. The request stated that “Australia has taken a close interest in this
case. Australia has the third largest maritime jurisdiction in the world, and a significant
proportion of our global seaborne trade passes through the South China Sea. As one of the
original States Parties to [the Convention], Australia has an abiding national interest in
promoting the rule of law regionally and globally, including through the peaceful settlement of
disputes in accordance with international law.” The request was forwarded to the Parties for
their immediate comment. The Philippines did not object to the Australian request. The
Tribunal informed the embassies of Australia and the United Kingdom that their respective

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requests to send observer delegations had been granted, and so advised the Parties. The United
Kingdom, however, informed the Registry that it would not be attending the proceedings.
H.

HEARING ON THE MERITS

69.

The Hearing on the Merits took place in two rounds on 24, 25, 26, and 30 November 2015 at the
Peace Palace in The Hague, the Netherlands. As with the Hearing on Jurisdiction, it was not
open to the general public. A press release was issued upon its commencement.

70.

The following were present at the Hearing:
Arbitral Tribunal
Judge Thomas A. Mensah (Presiding)
Judge Jean-Pierre Cot
Judge Stanislaw Pawlak
Professor Alfred H.A. Soons
Judge Rüdiger Wolfrum

The Philippines
Agent
Solicitor General Florin T. Hilbay
Representatives of the Philippines
Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert F. del Rosario
Mrs. Gretchen V. del Rosario
Secretary Ronaldo M. Llamas
Representative Rodolfo G. Biazon
Justice Francis H. Jardeleza
Justice Antonio T. Carpio
Ambassador Jaime Victor B. Ledda
Mrs. Veredigna M. Ledda
Ambassador Enrique A. Manalo
Ambassador Victoria S. Bataclan
Ambassador Cecilia B. Rebong
Ambassador Melita S. Sta. Maria-Thomeczek
Ambassador Joselito A. Jimeno
Ambassador Carlos C. Salinas
Mrs. Isabelita T. Salinas
Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra
Deputy Executive Secretary Teofilo S. Pilando, Jr.
Undersecretary Emmanuel T. Bautista
Undersecretary Abigail D. F. Valte
Consul General Henry S. Bensurto, Jr.
Minister Igor G. Bailen
Minister and Consul General Dinno M. Oblena
Director Ana Marie L. Hernando
Second Secretary and Consul Zoilo A. Velasco
Third Secretary and Vice Consul Ma. Theresa M. Alders
Third Secretary and Vice Consul Oliver C. Delfin
Attorney Josel N. Mostajo
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Attorney Maximo Paulino T. Sison III
Attorney Ma. Cristina T. Navarro
Associate Solicitor Elvira Joselle R. Castro
Attorney Margaret Faye G. Tañgan
Associate Solicitor Maria Graciela D. Base
Associate Solicitor Melbourne D. Pana
Ms. Ma. Rommin M. Diaz
Mr. Rene Fajardo
Counsel and Advocates
Mr. Paul S. Reichler
Mr. Lawrence H. Martin
Professor Bernard H. Oxman
Professor Philippe Sands QC
Professor Alan E. Boyle
Mr. Andrew B. Loewenstein
Counsel
Mr. Joseph Klingler
Mr. Yuri Parkhomenko
Mr. Nicholas M. Renzler
Mr. Remi Reichhold
Ms. Melissa Stewart
Technical Expert
Mr. Scott Edmonds
Mr. Alex Tait
Dr. Robert W. Smith
Assistants
Ms. Elizabeth Glusman
Ms. Nancy Lopez
Expert Witnesses
Professor Kent E. Carpenter
Professor Clive Schofield
China
No Agent or representatives present
Delegations from Observer States
Australia
Ms. Indra McCormick, Embassy of Australia
Republic of Indonesia
Mr. Ibnu Wahyutomo, Embassy of Indonesia
Dr. iur. Damos Dumoli Agusman, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Mr. Andy Aron, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Mr. Andreano Erwin, Office of the Special Envoy to the President
Dr. Haryo Budi Nugroho, Office of the Special Envoy to the President
Ms. Ayodhia G.L. Kalake, Coordinating Ministry of Maritime Affairs
Ms. Sora Lokita, Coordinating Ministry of Maritime Affairs
24

The South China Sea Arbitration
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Ms. Ourina Ritonga, Embassy of Indonesia
Ms. Monica Nila Sari, Embassy of Indonesia
Japan
Mr. Masayoshi Furuya, Embassy of Japan
Mr. Nobuyuki Murai, Embassy of Japan
Ms. Kaori Matsumoto, Embassy of Japan
Ms. Yuri Suzuki, Consular Office of Japan in Hamburg
Malaysia
Ambassador Ahmad Nazri Yusof
Dr. Azfar Mohamad Mustafar, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Mr. Mohd Helmy Ahmad, Prime Minister’s Department
Mr. Kamarul Azam Kamarul Baharin, Department of Survey and Mapping
Mr. Intan Diyana Ahamad, Attorney General’s Chambers
Ms. Nor’airin Abd Rashid, Embassy of Malaysia
The Republic of Singapore
Mr. Luke Tang, Attorney-General’s Chambers
Ms. Vanessa Lam, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Ms. Lin Zhiping, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Mr. John Cheo, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Kingdom of Thailand
Ambassador Ittiporn Boonpracong
Mr. Sorayut Chasombat, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Mr. Asi Mamanee, Royal Thai Embassy
Ms. Tanyarat Mungkalarungsi, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Ms. Kanokwan Ketchaimas, Royal Thai Embassy
Ms. Natsupang Poshyananda, Royal Thai Embassy
Socialist Republic of Viet Nam
Mr. Trinh Duc Hai, National Boundary Commission
Ambassador Nguyen Duy Chien
Mr. Nguyen Minh Vu, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Mr. Nguyen Dang Thang, National Boundary Commission
Mr. Thomas Grant, Counsel
Expert Appointed to Assist the Tribunal
Mr. Grant Boyes
Permanent Court of Arbitration
Ms. Judith Levine, Registrar
Mr. Garth Schofield
Ms. Nicola Peart
Ms. Julia Solana
Mr. Philipp Kotlaba
Ms. Iuliia Samsonova
Ms. Gaëlle Chevalier
Court Reporter
Mr. Trevor McGowan

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The South China Sea Arbitration
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71.

Oral presentations were made by the then Solicitor General Florin T. Hilbay, then Agent of the
Philippines; Secretary Albert F. del Rosario, the then Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the
Philippines; Mr. Paul S. Reichler and Mr. Lawrence H. Martin of Foley Hoag LLP,
Washington, D.C.; Professor Bernard H. Oxman of the University of Miami; Professor Philippe
Sands QC of Matrix Chambers, London; Professor Alan E. Boyle of Essex Court Chambers,
London; and Mr. Andrew B. Loewenstein of Foley Hoag LLP, Boston.

72.

The Registry delivered daily transcripts to the Philippines’ delegation and to the Chinese
Embassy, along with copies of all materials submitted by the Philippines during the course of
their oral presentations.

73.

During the first round of oral argument, several questions were posed by individual arbitrators
and answered by the Philippines. On 27 November 2015, the Tribunal circulated to the Parties
(a) “Questions for the Philippines to Address in the Second Round,” (b) “Questions for
Professor Schofield,” and (c) “Questions for Professor Carpenter.” Copies of the questions
were subsequently made available to the observer delegations.

74.

On 30 November 2015, during the second round of the hearing, the Philippines responded to the
Tribunal’s written questions circulated on 27 November 2015, as well as to oral questions posed
by individual arbitrators. Professor Schofield and Professor Carpenter also responded to the
written questions put to them respectively. The Philippines’ then Secretary for Foreign Affairs
addressed the Tribunal with concluding remarks, in which he recalled, on the 70th anniversary of
the United Nations, that two “centrepieces” of the UN order were the sovereign equality of
States and the obligation to settle disputes by peaceful means.

He also noted the

40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and China
and stated that it was for the preservation of the valued friendship between the two States that
the Philippines had initiated this arbitration.

He expressed his belief that this arbitration

“benefits everyone” because for China “it will define and clarify its maritime entitlements,” for
the Philippines, “it will clarify what is ours, specifically our fishing rights, rights to resources,
and rights to enforce our laws within our EEZ” and for the rest of the international community,
“it will help ensure peace, security, stability and freedom of navigation and overflight in the
South China Sea.” He expected the arbitration to “be instructive for other States to consider the
dispute settlement mechanism under UNCLOS as an option for resolving disputes in a peaceful
manner.” He summarised the key legal arguments and expressed hope that this arbitration
would help “promote[] peace, security and good neighbourliness” and accord to the rule of law

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the “primacy that the founders of the United Nations and the drafters of UNCLOS
envisioned.”13
75.

The Agent for the Philippines formally presented the Philippines’ fifteen final Submissions.14
The Presiding Arbitrator outlined the next steps in the proceeding, including an invitation to
both Parties to submit by 9 December 2015 their corrections to the transcript, an invitation to
the Philippines to submit by 18 December 2015 any further responses to questions posed during
the second round, and an invitation to China to comment in writing by 1 January 2016 on
anything said during the Hearing on the Merits or submitted subsequently. The Presiding
Arbitrator then declared the Hearing on the Merits closed.

76.

In keeping with its prior practice and in accordance with Article 16 of the Rules of Procedure,
the Registry issued a Press Release after the closure of the Hearing on the Merits.

I.

POST-HEARING PROCEEDINGS

77.

The Agent for the Philippines submitted in written form the Final Submissions of the Republic
of the Philippines on 30 November 2015.

78.

By letter dated 1 December 2015, the Tribunal noted that the Philippines’ final Submissions
reflected three amendments—to Submissions No. 11, 14 and 15—requested by the Philippines
in the course of the Hearing on the Merits.15 With respect to Submission No. 11, on failure to
protect and preserve the marine environment, the Philippines added references to Cuarteron
Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Gaven Reef, Johnson Reef, Hughes Reef and Subi Reef. With respect
to Submission No. 14, on China’s alleged aggravation and extension of the dispute, the
Philippines added reference to “dredging, artificial island-building and construction activities at
Mischief Reef, Cuarteron Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Gaven Reef, Johnson Reef, Hughes Reef and
Subi Reef.” In response to the Tribunal’s direction in paragraph 413(I) of the Award on
Jurisdiction to “clarify the content and narrow the scope of its Submission 15,” the Philippines
changed the text of Submission No. 15 to seek a declaration that “China shall respect the rights
and freedoms of the Philippines under the Convention, shall comply with its duties under the
Convention, including those relevant to the protection and preservation of the marine
environment in the South China Sea, and shall exercise its rights and freedoms in the South
China Sea with due regard to those of the Philippines under the Convention.” China was invited
to provide any comments on the requested amendments by 9 December 2015.

13
14
15

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), pp. 188-200.
Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), pp. 201-205.
For earlier versions of the submissions, see Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 99-102; Memorial, pp. 271-272.

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79.

On 14 December 2015, the Philippines submitted documents that had been referenced or
requested during the hearing. These included electronic versions of materials displayed by
Professor Schofield, additional legal authorities, and observations by Dr. Robert Smith and
EOMAP satellite bathymetry analysis pertaining to the nature of certain maritime features
located between Thitu and Subi Reef.

80.

In accordance with Article 19 of the Rules of Procedure, on 16 December 2015, the Tribunal
granted leave to the Philippines to make the amendments incorporated in its final Submissions.
It also informed the Parties that the final reviewed and corrected transcripts of the Hearing on
the Merits would be published on the PCA’s website and reminded China of its opportunity to
comment in writing by 1 January 2016 on anything said during the hearing or subsequently filed
by the Philippines.

81.

On 18 December 2015, the Philippines filed a supplementary response to one of Judge
Wolfrum’s questions posed during the Hearing on the Merits, referring to additional evidence
about the alleged taking of giant clams and sea turtles by Chinese fishermen and alleged
environmental damage to reefs.

82.

On 21 December 2015, an official spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs
commented on the publication of the transcript of the Hearing on the Merits as follows:
The Chinese side will neither accept nor participate in the South China Sea arbitration
unilaterally initiated by the Philippines. This longstanding position is fully supported by
international law and subject to no change.
In the hearing, the Philippine side attempted to negate China’s sovereignty over the Nansha
Islands and deny the validity of the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation in
disregard of historical facts, international law and international justice. It testifies to the
fact that the South China Sea dispute between China and the Philippines is in essence a
territorial dispute over which the arbitral tribunal has no jurisdiction. It also shows that the
so-called arbitration is a political provocation under the cloak of law aiming at negating
China’s sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea instead of
resolving the dispute.
It is the Chinese people rather than any other individuals or institutions that master China’s
territorial sovereignty. When it comes to issues concerning territorial sovereignty and
maritime delimitation, China will not accept any dispute settlement approach that resorts to
a third party. The Chinese side urges the Philippine side to cast aside illusions, change its
course and come back to the right track of resolving disputes through negotiations and
consultations.16

83.

On 11 January 2016, the Tribunal noted that China had not submitted any comments on what
was said during the Hearing on the Merits or subsequently filed by the Philippines. The

16

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei’s
Regular Press Conference (21 December 2015), available at <http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/
xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/t1326449.shtml>.

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Tribunal also conveyed a request the Registry had received from the Japanese Embassy for
copies of any relevant new documents in relation to the Hearing on the Merits. The Tribunal
invited the Parties’ views on the documents that it proposed to provide to the observer States.
The Philippines had no objection to the proposed items being provided to the observer States.
J.

FURTHER EVIDENCE, EXPERT REPORTS, AND COMMUNICATIONS FROM CHINA AND OTHERS

84.

On 5 February 2016, the Tribunal sent a letter to the Parties informing them that, in reviewing
the evidentiary record and pursuing its deliberations, it had decided that it would benefit from
further evidence and clarifications from the Parties, and from the views of independent experts.
The Tribunal referred to Article 22(2) of the Rules of Procedure, which provides for the
Tribunal to “take all appropriate measures in order to establish the facts”; Article 22(4), which
provides that the Tribunal may “at any time during the arbitral proceedings, require the Parties
to produce documents, exhibits or other evidence”; and Article 24 which provides for the
Tribunal to appoint independent experts to report on specific issues. The Tribunal’s letter
addressed the following matters:
(a)

As indicated during the Hearing on the Merits, the Tribunal remained interested in
publications and studies from China or elsewhere concerning the environmental impact of
China’s island-building activities, 17 especially in light of statements made by public
officials and China’s State Oceanic Administration (“SOA”) indicating that such studies
had been conducted.18 The Parties were thus invited to submit comments in respect of
those materials, and China was specifically asked to indicate whether it had conducted an
environmental impact study per Article 206 of the Convention and, if so, to provide the
Tribunal with a copy.

(b)

The Tribunal had decided to appoint an expert to provide an independent opinion on
whether the Chinese construction activities in the Spratly Islands have a detrimental
effect on the coral reef systems and the anticipated duration of such effects.

(c)

The Tribunal considered it appropriate to appoint an expert to review the available
documentary material relevant to the Philippines’ Submission No. 13 on navigational
safety issues and to draw independent conclusions as to whether there had been a
violation of the navigational safety provisions covered by the Convention.

17

Letter from the Tribunal to the Parties (27 November 2015); Annex A to Letter from the Tribunal to the
Parties, Questions 22, 23 (27 November 2015); Annex C to Letter from the Tribunal to the Parties
(27 November 2015), Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), pp. 148-150.

18

See China’s public statements at paragraphs 922 to 924 below.

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(d)

Recalling that it had previously sought the Parties’ comments on new documentation
about the status of Itu Aba, the Tribunal sought comments on two further documents in
the public domain that had recently come to its attention.

85.

The Tribunal proposed on 26 February 2016 to appoint Captain Gurpreet Singh Singhota, a
national of the United Kingdom, as an expert on navigational safety issues and invited the
Parties’ comments on his qualifications, declaration of independence and draft Terms of
Reference. On 29 February 2016, the Tribunal proposed to appoint Dr. Sebastian Ferse, a
national of Germany, as an expert on coral reef issues and invited the Parties’ comments on his
qualifications, declaration of independence and draft Terms of Reference. Noting the size and
complexity of the coral reef expert’s mandate, the Tribunal mentioned that it was considering
the appointment of a second expert on coral reef ecology.

86.

The Philippines reported that it approved of the proposed appointments and had no comments.
On 11 March 2016, the Philippines submitted its comments concerning additional materials
relating to (a) evidence relevant to Submissions No. 11 and 12(b) on protection of the marine
environment, and (b) materials relevant to the status of features that may generate overlapping
entitlements. Its comments were accompanied by 30 new annexes, including two new expert
reports, by Dr. Ryan T. Bailey on “Groundwater Resources Analysis of Itu Aba” and by
Dr. Peter P. Motavalli on “Soil Resources and Potential Self-Sustaining Agricultural Production
on Itu Aba.”

87.

China did not comment on the proposed appointment of either expert candidate. China did not
respond to the Tribunal’s invitation to supply information about environmental impact
assessments and did not comment on the new materials about Itu Aba.

88.

On 15 March 2016, the Tribunal invited China to comment on the new materials filed by the
Philippines and informed the Parties that it was proceeding with the appointments of Captain
Singhota and Dr. Ferse as experts under Article 24 of the Rules of Procedure.

89.

On 1 April 2016, the Tribunal sent three letters to the Parties:
(a)

The first letter noted that, in furtherance of its mandate to satisfy itself that the
Philippines’ claims are well founded in fact, the Tribunal considered it appropriate to
have reference, to the greatest extent possible, to original records based on the direct
observation of the features in question, prior to them having been subjected to significant
human modification. It informed the Parties that, as the most extensive hydrographic
survey work in the South China Sea prior to 1945 was carried out by the Royal Navy of
the United Kingdom, followed closely by the Imperial Japanese Navy, the Tribunal had
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undertaken to seek records from the archives of the United Kingdom Hydrographic
Office (the “UKHO”), which also hold certain Japanese records captured during the
Second World War. The Tribunal provided documents and survey materials obtained by
the Tribunal from the UKHO archives and invited the Parties’ comments by 22 April
2016.
(b)

The second letter conveyed a request from Dr. Ferse for the Philippines to seek
clarification from the author of a 2015 report that was put into the record by the
Philippines,19 with respect to the extent of reef damage caused by dredging versus clam
shell extraction, in light of some more recent reporting on the matter.20

(c)

The third letter invited the Parties’ comments on four new documents that had come to
the Tribunal’s attention, namely a “Position Paper on ROC South China Sea Policy,” the
comments of the People’s Republic of China Foreign Ministry Spokesperson in response
to that Position Paper; a document published by the “Chinese (Taiwan) Society of
International Law” and some remarks of Mr. Ma Ying-jeou, then President of the Taiwan
Authority of China, at an international press conference “regarding Taiping [Itu Aba]
Island in Nansha Islands.”

90.

On 12 April 2016, the Tribunal informed the Parties that it intended to appoint two additional
coral reef experts to collaborate with Dr. Ferse, namely Professor Peter Mumby (a national of
the United Kingdom and Australia) and Dr. Selina Ward (a national of Australia). Their
curricula vitae, declarations of independence, and draft Terms of Reference were sent to the
Parties. The Philippines approved of their appointments and China did not respond.

91.

On 18 April 2016, the Tribunal sent to the Parties the expert opinion of Captain Singhota on
navigational safety issues and, in accordance with Article 24(4) of the Rules of Procedure,
invited the Parties to express any comments on the report in writing. The Philippines expressed
that it had no comments, and China did not respond.

92.

On 25 April 2016, the Philippines filed its responses to the Tribunal’s request for comments on
additional materials regarding the status of Itu Aba. While the Philippines considered that it
would have been “within its rights in requesting, and the Tribunal would be well-justified in
finding, that these materials should be disregarded,” it nevertheless “recognized the exceptional

19

J.W. McManus, “Offshore Coral Reef Damage, Overfishing and Paths to Peace in the South China Sea,”
draft as at 20 September 2015 (Annex 850).

20

V.R. Lee, “Satellite Imagery Shows Ecocide in the South China Sea,” The Diplomat, 15 January 2016,
available at <thediplomat.com/2016/01/satellite-images-show-ecocide-in-the-south-china-sea/>.

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difficulties China’s non-appearance has created for the Tribunal” and chose “not to object to the
Tribunal’s consideration of Taiwan’s most recent materials should the Tribunal itself find it
appropriate to do so.” 21

The Philippines’ comments were accompanied by two revised

translations and 21 new annexes, including supplemental expert reports from Dr. Bailey and
Dr. Motavalli. The Philippines submitted that: (a) Taiwan’s newest materials “must be treated
with caution,” (b) “[n]o further attempts by Taiwan to influence the Tribunal’s deliberations
should be entertained,” (c) “[i]n any event, Taiwan’s latest submissions only prove that Itu Aba
has never supported genuine, sustained human habitation or economic life of its own” as
explained in part by the “fact that Itu Aba lacks the freshwater and soil resources to do so,”
(d) the historical account of China’s alleged presence in the South China Sea in “Taiwan’s
Position Paper only underscores the baseless nature of China’s claim to exclusive historical
rights to the maritime areas located within the nine-dash line,” and (e) the “PRC’s
Spokesperson’s remarks make it clear that Taiwan is alone among the littoral authorities in the
South China Sea in claiming that Itu Aba is capable of sustaining human habitation and
economic life of its own.”
93.

On 26 April 2016, the Philippines filed its responses to Dr. Ferse’s request for clarification on
the issue of reef damage attributable to dredging versus clam shell extraction. This included a
letter and updated report from Professor John W. McManus, and a supplementary declaration
from Professor Carpenter.

94.

On 28 April 2016, the Philippines filed its response to the UKHO materials, and submitted that
“the documents and survey materials confirm the Philippines’ characterization of the relevant
features . . . as a submerged feature, a low-tide elevation, or an Article 121(3) rock.”

95.

On 29 April 2016, the Tribunal sent the Parties the independent expert opinion of Dr. Ferse,
Professor Mumby, and Dr. Ward on the “Assessment of the Potential Environmental
Consequences of Construction Activities on Seven Reefs in the Spratly Islands in the South
China Sea.” Pursuant to Article 24(4) of the Rules of Procedure, the Parties had an opportunity
to express in writing their respective comments on the report. The Philippines expressed that it
had no comments, and China did not respond.

96.

On 12 May 2016, the Director-General of the Chinese Department of Treaty and Law of the
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Xu Hong, gave a “Briefing on the South China Sea
Arbitration Initiated by the Philippines.” He made the following overview statement on “the

21

Responses of the Philippines to the Tribunal’s 1 April 2016 Request for Comments on Additional
Materials regarding the Status of Itu Aba, paras. 7-8 (25 April 2016) (hereinafter “Written Responses of
the Philippines on Itu Aba (25 April 2016)”).

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relevant policies and positions of the Chinese Government, especially from the international law
perspective,” before answering questions from the media:
China has made it clear on multiple occasions that because the Arbitral Tribunal clearly has
no jurisdiction over the present Arbitration, the decision to be made by such an institution
that lacks the jurisdiction to do so has obviously no legal effect, and consequently there is
no such thing as the recognition or implementation of the Award. Some people wonder
whether China’s position above is consistent with international law. Today, I would like to
elaborate on China’s positions from the international law perspective. . . .
The first question is what is the scope of the jurisdiction of the Arbitral Tribunal.
. . . to settle international disputes by peaceful means is one of the fundamental principles of
international law. However, it should be noted that there are a variety of means to settle
disputes peacefully, and compulsory arbitration is merely a new type of procedure
established under the UNCLOS. Compulsory arbitration is subsidiary and complementary
to negotiation and consultation, and its application is subject to several preconditions. . . .
First, compulsory arbitration can only be applied to settle disputes concerning the
interpretation and application of the UNCLOS. If the subject matters are beyond the scope
of the UNCLOS, the disputes shall not be settled by compulsory arbitration. The issue of
territorial sovereignty is one such case. Consequently, States shall not initiate compulsory
arbitration on disputes concerning it; and even if they do, the arbitral tribunal has no
jurisdiction over them.
Second, a State Party to the UNCLOS may declare in writing that it does not accept
compulsory arbitration with respect to disputes concerning maritime delimitation, historic
bays or titles, military and law enforcement activities, etc. Such exclusions are effective to
other States Parties. With respect to disputes excluded by one party, other parties to the
dispute shall not initiate compulsory arbitration; and even if it does, the arbitral tribunal has
no jurisdiction over them.
Third, if parties to a dispute have agreed on other means of settlement of their own choice,
no party shall unilaterally initiate compulsory arbitration; and even if it does, the arbitral
tribunal has no jurisdiction over the dispute.
Fourth, at the procedural level, parties to a dispute are obliged to first exchange views on the
means of dispute settlement. Failing to fulfill this obligation, they shall not initiate
compulsory arbitration; and even if they do, the arbitral tribunal has no jurisdiction over the
dispute.
The above four preconditions act as the “four bars” for States Parties to initiate compulsory
arbitration, and for the arbitral tribunal to establish its jurisdiction. They form a part of the
package system of dispute settlement, which shall be interpreted and applied
comprehensively and in its entirety.
. . . If we apply the above preconditions to the arbitration unilaterally initiated by the
Philippines, it is not difficult to see that the Philippines, by initiating the arbitration, has
violated international law in at least four aspects.
First, the essence of the subject-matter of the arbitration is territorial sovereignty over
several maritime features in the South China Sea, which is beyond the scope of the
UNCLOS. Second, even assuming some of the claims were concerned with the
interpretation and application of the UNCLOS, they would still be an integral part of
maritime delimitation, which has been excluded by China through its 2006 Declaration and
consequently is not subject to compulsory arbitration. Third, given that China and the
Philippines have agreed to settle their disputes in the South China Sea through negotiation,
the Philippines is precluded from initiating arbitration unilaterally. Fourth, the Philippines
failed to fulfill the obligation of exchanging views with China on the means of dispute
settlement.
In summary, the Philippines’ initiation of the arbitration is a typical abuse of compulsory
arbitral procedures stipulated in the UNCLOS. . . . In 2014, the Chinese Government issued

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a Position Paper to elaborate, from an international law perspective, on the question why the
Tribunal lacks jurisdiction over the Arbitration. . . .
However, the Tribunal is not objective or just. On several occasions, it distorts the
provisions of the UNCLOS to embrace the claims of the Philippines. In violation of the
fundamental principle that the jurisdiction shall be established based on facts and law, the
Arbitral Tribunal concluded that it had jurisdiction over the Philippines’ claims, which is
neither convincing nor valid in international law. For such an award, China certainly has
good reasons not to recognize it. The opinions made by the Tribunal, as an institution that
manifestly lacks jurisdiction and should not exist in the first place, are personal views of the
arbitrators at best and are not legally binding, not to mention its recognition or
implementation.22

97.

On 20 May 2016, representatives from the Chinese Embassy in The Hague presented to the
Registry a letter from the new Ambassador, with the request that it be delivered to each member
of the Tribunal. The letter enclosed for reference, the “relevant position expounded on 20 May
2016 by the Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China
on the Philippines’ South China Sea arbitration.” The Ambassador reiterated that “China does
not accept or participate in the Philippines’ South China Sea arbitration. This position is
consistent and clear. My letter shall not be considered as China’s plea or participation in the
Philippines’ South China Sea arbitration.” The enclosed statement of the Foreign Ministry
Spokesperson was a response to a question as follows:
Q: The Philippines claims that it had no alternative but to initiate the arbitration because
the bilateral means has been exhausted. However, it is otherwise commented that China
and the Philippines have never engaged in any negotiation on the subject-matters the
Philippines submitted. What is China’s comment on that?
A: The Chinese Government consistently adheres to the position of settling the relevant
disputes between China and the Philippines by peaceful means through negotiation and
consultation. This is a consensus reached and repeatedly reaffirmed by the two sides, as
well as an explicit provision in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South
China Sea (DOC). Besides, in 2006, China has, pursuant to the relevant provisions in
Article 298 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), excluded
disputes concerning, among others, sea boundary delimitations, historic bays or titles,
military and law enforcement activities from the dispute settlement procedures provided in
UNCLOS. Before its unilateral initiation of the arbitration in January 2013, the Philippine
Government has not conducted any negotiation or consultation with China on the relevant
subject-matters, not to mention that it has exhausted the means of bilateral negotiation for
dispute settlement. The unilateral initiation of arbitration by the Philippines has failed to
meet the prerequisite for arbitration initiation, and cannot play a role of dispute settlement
or lead to anywhere for dispute settlement.
China always stands that, with regard to the relevant disputes between China and the
Philippines in the South China Sea, a true solution can only be sought through bilateral
negotiation and consultation. All sides should encourage the Philippines to work with

22

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Briefing by Xu Hong, Director-General of the
Department of Treaty and Law on the South China Sea Arbitration Initiated by the Philippines (12 May
2016) available at <www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/wjdt_665385/zyjh_665391/t1364804.shtml>.

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China to resolve peacefully the relevant disputes through negotiation in accordance with the
bilateral consensus, the DOC and international law including UNCLOS. 23

98.

The Registry forwarded the Chinese Ambassador’s letter to the members of the Tribunal and to
the Philippines.

99.

On 26 May 2016, the Tribunal informed the Parties that it considered it appropriate to consult
French material from the 1930s in order to gain a more complete picture as to the natural
conditions of the South China Sea features at that time. The Tribunal provided the Parties with
documents obtained from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (the National Library of
France) and from the Archives Nationales d’Outre-Mer (the National Overseas Archives) and
invited their comments.

The Philippines commented on 3 June 2016 and supplied

supplementary materials and a further expert report from Dr. Motavalli with its response. China
was invited to, but did not, comment on the Philippines’ response.
100. The new Chinese Ambassador sent a second letter to the individual members of the Tribunal on
3 June 2016, enclosing a statement expounded by a Foreign Ministry Spokesperson in response
to a question about the status of Itu Aba. The Ambassador emphasised again that his letter does
not constitute a plea or participation in the arbitration. The enclosed statement of the Foreign
Ministry Spokesperson was the following:
Q: As reported by some foreign media, the Philippines and the arbitral tribunal are
attempting to characterize Taiping Dao of China’s Nansha Islands as a “rock” other than an
“island”. However, according to experts and journalists who recently visited Taiping Dao,
it is an island boasting plenty of fresh water and lush vegetation. The installations and
facilities for medical care, postal service, energy generation, and scientific research are all
available and in good working condition. It is vibrant and lively everywhere on this island.
Do you have any comment on this?
A: China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and its adjacent waters,
including Taiping Dao. China has, based on the Nansha Islands as a whole, territorial sea,
exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. Over the history, Chinese fishermen have
resided on Taiping Dao for years, working and living there, carrying out fishing activities,
digging wells for fresh water, cultivating land and farming, building huts and temples, and
raising livestock. The above activities are all manifestly recorded in Geng Lu Bu (Manual
of Sea Routes) which was passed down from generation to generation among Chinese
fishermen, as well as in many western navigation logs before the 1930s.
The working and living practice of Chinese people on Taiping Dao fully proves that
Taiping Dao is an “island” which is completely capable of sustaining human habitation or
economic life of its own. The Philippines’ attempt to characterize Taiping Dao as a “rock”
exposed that its purpose of initiating the arbitration is to deny China's sovereignty over the

23

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s
Regular Press Conference (20 May 2016). A slightly different English translation, published by the
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs is available at <www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/
s2510_665401/2511_665403/t1365237.shtml>.

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Nansha Islands and relevant maritime rights and interests. This violates international law,
and is totally unacceptable.24

101. In response to an invitation from the Tribunal, the Philippines commented on the Ambassador’s
letter and accompanying statement on 10 June 2016. The Philippines submitted that there is no
basis in the Convention for China’s assertion “based on the Nansha Islands as a whole” to a
territorial sea, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. With respect to the Geng Lu Bu,
the Philippines observed that this “Manual of Sea Routes” is reported to be a navigation guide
for “Hainan fishermen” consistent with evidence that China’s fishermen “did no more than
sojourn temporarily” at Itu Aba, and that in any event China had failed to demonstrate any
evidence by citation to specific text or supporting documentation that would constitute proof as
to the characterisation of Itu Aba.
102. On 8 June 2016, representatives from the Chinese Embassy delivered to the Registry a third
letter from the Chinese Ambassador to the individual members of the Tribunal. The letter,
which was said not to constitute a plea or participation in the arbitration, enclosed a “Statement
of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China on Settling Disputes
Between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea through Bilateral Negotiation.” The
statement laid out jurisdictional points previously made by China in other statements, including
the Position Paper, under the following headings:
I.

It is the common agreement and commitment of China and the Philippines to settle
their relevant disputes in the South China Sea through negotiation.

...
II.

China and the Philippines have never conducted any negotiation on the subjectmatters of the arbitration initiated by the Philippines.

...
III.

The Philippines’ unilateral initiation of arbitration goes against the bilateral
agreement on settling the disputes through negotiation and violates the provisions of
UNCLOS.

...
IV.

China will adhere to the position of settling the relevant disputes with the
Philippines in the South China Sea through negotiation. 25

24

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s
Remarks on Relevant Issue about Taiping Dao (3 June 2016), available at <www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/
xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/2535_665405/t1369189.shtml>.

25

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of
the People’s Republic of China on Settling Disputes Between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea
Through Bilateral Negotiation (8 June 2016), available at <http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/
wjdt_665385/2649_665393/t1370476.shtml>.

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103. On 10 June 2016, a fourth letter from the Chinese Ambassador was delivered to the Registry,
addressed to the individual members of the Tribunal, enclosing a statement by the Chinese
Society of International Law, entitled “The Tribunal’s Award in the ‘South China Sea
Arbitration’ Initiated by the Philippines is Null and Void.” The statement repeated many of the
same jurisdictional points that were covered in the Position Paper and dealt with in the Award
on Jurisdiction. Copies of the Chinese Ambassador’s correspondence of 8 and 10 June 2016
were forwarded to the Philippines for information.
104. During the same period that the Tribunal received the four most recent letters from the Chinese
Ambassador, the Registry received copies or was made aware of various unsolicited statements
and commentaries from Chinese associations and organisations pertaining to issues covered in
the Award on Jurisdiction. These statements, however, were not provided to the Tribunal by the
Chinese Government or any Party to the Convention. The statements were concerned with
matters of jurisdiction already decided by the Tribunal and did not offer to assist the Tribunal on
issues in dispute in the present phase of the proceedings.
105. On 23 June 2016, the Embassy of Malaysia in the Netherlands sent to the Tribunal two Notes
Verbales, drawing attention to an issue with certain maps contained in the Award on
Jurisdiction (which had been extracted, for illustrative purposes, from the Philippines’
Memorial), and requesting that the Tribunal show due regard to the rights of Malaysia
(“Malaysia’s Communication”). The Malaysian Embassy emphasised that it was not seeking
to intervene in the proceedings. The Tribunal sent copies of Malaysia’s Communication to the
Parties and requested any comments by 28 June 2016. The Philippines commented on 28 June
2016. With respect to the maps, the Philippines noted that it had presented the maps in such a
way as to preserve its own claim but would leave the issue to the Tribunal’s discretion. With
respect to Malaysia’s assertions that issues in dispute may directly or indirectly affect its rights
and interests, the Philippines noted that this question had already been dealt with by the
Tribunal. The Philippines considered Malaysia’s Communication therefore to be “without
merit” and also pointed out that it was “untimely”, in light of the fact that Malaysia had been an
observer since 10 June 2015 and until now made no effort to raise its concerns. China did not
comment on Malaysia’s Communication.

On 29 June 2016, the Tribunal forwarded the

Philippines’ comments to China and acknowledged to Malaysia that it had received and taken
note of its Communication.26
26

The Tribunal recalls with respect to the maps published at pp. 3 and 9 of the Award on Jurisdiction that it
had stated at p. iv of the Award on Jurisdiction: “The figures in this Award have been taken from the
Philippines’ Memorial and are included for illustrative purposes only. Their use in this Award is not an
indication that the Tribunal endorses the figures or adopts any associated arguments from the
Philippines.” The Tribunal notes that the maps contained in the present Award are likewise for

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K.

NOTIFICATION, PUBLICATION, AND TRANSLATION OF AWARD

106. By advance notification that was published on the PCA’s website and sent directly to the
Parties, observer States and interested media, the Tribunal advised on 29 June 2016, that it
would be issuing this Award on 12 July 2016.
107. On 1 July 2016, the Philippines informed the Tribunal, in accordance with Article 4(2) of the
Rules of Procedure, that as of 30 June 2016 Mr. Jose C. Calida had been appointed Solicitor
General of the Philippines and had also been appointed to serve as Agent in the arbitration. The
Philippines requested that future correspondence be directed to him and Attorney Anne Marie L.
Corominas. A copy of the Philippines’ letter was forwarded to China for information.
108. The Tribunal has authorised the Registry to publish a press release in English (official version),
French, and Chinese at the same time as the issuance of the present Award.
109. In accordance with Article 15(2) of the Rules of Procedure, the Tribunal has instructed that, in
due course, the Registry shall arrange for the translation of the Award on Jurisdiction and the
present Award into Chinese, to be made available to the public. The English version of the
Awards, however, shall remain the only authentic version.
L.

DEPOSITS FOR COSTS OF THE ARBITRATION

110. Article 33 of the Rules of Procedure states that the PCA may from time to time request the
Parties to deposit equal amounts as advances for the costs of the arbitration. Should either Party
fail to make the requested deposit within 45 days, the Tribunal may so inform the Parties in
order that one of them may make the payment. The Parties have been requested to make
payments toward the deposit on three occasions. While the Philippines paid its share of the
deposit within the time limit granted on each occasion, China has made no payments toward the
deposit. Having been informed of China’s failure to pay, the Philippines paid China’s share of
the deposit.
110. The deposit has covered the fees and expenses of members of the Tribunal, Registry, and
experts appointed to assist the Tribunal, as well as all other expenses including for hearings and
meetings, information technology support, catering, court reporters, deposit administration,
archiving, translations, couriers, communications, correspondence, and publishing of the
Awards. Article 7 of Annex VII to the Convention provides that “[u]nless the arbitral tribunal
illustrative purposes only. The fact that the maps are not identical to the maps used in the Award on
Jurisdiction does not reflect any decision taken by the Tribunal with respect to the status of any land
territory or any decision taken by the Tribunal with respect to any non-party to the present arbitration.

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decides otherwise because of the particular circumstances of the case, the expenses of the
tribunal, including the remuneration of its members, shall be borne by the parties to the dispute
in equal shares.”27
111. In accordance with Article 33(4) of the Rules of Procedure, the Registry will “render an
accounting to the Parties of the deposits received and return any unexpended balance to the
Parties” after the issuance of this Award.

*

27

*

See also Rules of Procedure, art. 31(1).

39

*

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III.

RELIEF REQUESTED AND SUBMISSIONS

112. On 30 November 2015, the Agent for the Philippines presented the Philippines’ Final
Submissions, requesting the Tribunal to adjudge and declare that:
A.

The Tribunal has jurisdiction over the claims set out in Section B of these
Submissions, which are fully admissible, to the extent not already determined to be
within the Tribunal’s jurisdiction and admissible in the Award on Jurisdiction and
Admissibility of 29 October 2015.

B.

(1)

China’s maritime entitlements in the South China Sea, like those of the
Philippines, may not extend beyond those expressly permitted by the United
Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (“UNCLOS” or the
“Convention”);

(2)

China’s claims to sovereign rights jurisdiction, and to “historic rights”, with
respect to the maritime areas of the South China Sea encompassed by the
so-called “nine-dash line” are contrary to the Convention and without lawful
effect to the extent that they exceed the geographic and substantive limits of
China’s maritime entitlements expressly permitted by UNCLOS;

(3)

Scarborough Shoal generates no entitlement to an exclusive economic zone
or continental shelf;

(4)

Mischief Reef, Second Thomas Shoal and Subi Reef are low-tide elevations
that do not generate entitlement to a territorial sea, exclusive economic zone
or continental shelf, and are not features that are capable of appropriation by
occupation or otherwise;

(5)

Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal are part of the exclusive economic
zone and continental shelf of the Philippines;

(6)

Gaven Reef and McKennan Reef (including Hughes Reef) are low-tide
elevations that do not generate entitlement to a territorial sea, exclusive
economic zone or continental shelf, but their low-water line may be used to
determine the baseline from which the breadth of the territorial sea of Namyit
and Sin Cowe, respectively, is measured;

(7)

Johnson Reef, Cuarteron Reef and Fiery Cross Reef generate no entitlement
to an exclusive economic zone or continental shelf;

(8)

China has unlawfully interfered with the enjoyment and exercise of the
sovereign rights of the Philippines with respect to the living and non-living
resources of its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf;

(9)

China has unlawfully failed to prevent its nationals and vessels from
exploiting the living resources in the exclusive economic zone of the
Philippines;

(10)

China has unlawfully prevented Philippine fishermen from pursuing their
livelihoods by interfering with traditional fishing activities at Scarborough
Shoal;

(11)

China has violated its obligations under the Convention to protect and
preserve the marine environment at Scarborough Shoal, Second Thomas
Shoal, Cuarteron Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Gaven Reef, Johnson Reef, Hughes
Reef and Subi Reef;

(12)

China’s occupation of and construction activities on Mischief Reef

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(a)

violate the provisions of the Convention concerning artificial islands,
installations and structures;

(b)

violate China’s duties to protect and preserve the marine environment
under the Convention; and

(c)

constitute unlawful acts of attempted appropriation in violation of the
Convention;

(13)

China has breached its obligations under the Convention by operating its law
enforcement vessels in a dangerous manner causing serious risk of collision
to Philippine vessels navigating in the vicinity of Scarborough Shoal;

(14)

Since the commencement of this arbitration in January 2013, China has
unlawfully aggravated and extended the dispute by, among other things:

(15)

(a)

interfering with the Philippines’ rights of navigation in the waters at,
and adjacent to, Second Thomas Shoal;

(b)

preventing the rotation and resupply of Philippine personnel stationed
at Second Thomas Shoal;

(c)

endangering the health and well-being of Philippine personnel
stationed at Second Thomas Shoal; and

(d)

conducting dredging, artificial island-building and construction
activities at Mischief Reef, Cuarteron Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Gaven
Reef, Johnson Reef, Hughes Reef and Subi Reef; and

China shall respect the rights and freedoms of the Philippines under the
Convention, shall comply with its duties under the Convention, including
those relevant to the protection and preservation of the marine environment
in the South China Sea, and shall exercise its rights and freedoms in the
South China Sea with due regard to those of the Philippines under the
Convention.28

113. As described above at paragraphs 78 and 80, on 16 December 2015 in accordance with
Article 19 of the Rules of Procedure, having sought the views of China, the Tribunal granted
leave to the Philippines to make the amendments incorporated in its final Submissions.
114. While China does not accept and is not participating in this arbitration, it has stated its position
that the Tribunal “does not have jurisdiction over this case.”29
115. In accordance with its decision not to participate, China did not file a Counter-Memorial, has
not stated its position on the particular Submissions of the Philippines, and has not commented
on specific substantive issues when given the opportunity to do so. China pointed out that its
Position Paper “does not express any position on the substantive issues related to the
28

29

Letter from the Philippines to the Tribunal (30 November 2015); see also Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4),
pp. 201-205.
China’s Position Paper, para. 2; see also Letter from the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to
the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the individual members of the Tribunal (6 February 2015); Letter from
the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the individual
members of the Tribunal (1 July 2015).

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subject-matter of the arbitration initiated by the Philippines.”30 Nevertheless, as described in
relevant portions of the Award, in proceeding to assess the merits of the respective Submissions,
the Tribunal has sought to take into account China’s position to the extent it is discernible from
China’s official statements and conduct.

*

30

*

China’s Position Paper, para. 2.

43

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IV.

PRELIMINARY MATTERS

A.

THE LEGAL AND PRACTICAL CONSEQUENCES OF CHINA’S NON-PARTICIPATION

116. As is evident from the procedural history recounted in Chapter II, China has consistently
rejected the Philippines’ recourse to arbitration and has adhered to a position of non-acceptance
and non-participation in the proceedings. China did not participate in the constitution of the
Tribunal, it did not submit a Counter-Memorial in response to the Philippines’ Memorial, it did
not attend the Hearings on Jurisdiction or on the Merits, it did not reply to the Tribunal’s
invitations to comment on specific issues of substance or procedure, and it has not advanced any
of the funds requested by the Tribunal toward the costs of the arbitration. Throughout the
proceedings, China has rejected and returned correspondence from the Tribunal sent by the
Registry, reiterating on each occasion “that it does not accept the arbitration initiated by the
Philippines.”
117. The Convention, however, expressly acknowledges the possibility of non-participation by one
of the parties to a dispute and confirms that such non-participation does not constitute a bar to
the proceedings. Article 9 of Annex VII provides:
Article 9
Default of Appearance
If one of the parties to the dispute does not appear before the arbitral tribunal or fails to
defend its case, the other party may request the tribunal to continue the proceedings and to
make its award. Absence of a party or failure of a party to defend its case shall not
constitute a bar to the proceedings. Before making its award, the arbitral tribunal must
satisfy itself not only that it has jurisdiction over the dispute but also that the claim is well
founded in fact and law.

118. Pursuant to Article 9, the Philippines expressly requested that these proceedings continue. 31
The Tribunal has continued the proceedings, confirming that despite its non-appearance, China
remains a party to the arbitration, with the ensuing rights and obligations, including that it will
be bound under international law by any decision of the Tribunal.32

31
32

Memorial, paras. 1.21, 7.39; Award on Jurisdiction, para. 114.
Convention, art. 296(1) (providing that any decision rendered by a tribunal having jurisdiction under
Section 2 of Part XV “shall be final and shall be complied with by all the parties to the dispute.”). Article
11 of Annex VII similarly provides that “[t]he award shall be final and without appeal” and “shall be
complied with by the parties to the dispute.” See Award on Jurisdiction, para. 114, citing Military and
Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. United States), Merits, Judgment,
ICJ Reports 1986, p. 14 at p. 24, para. 28; Arctic Sunrise (Kingdom of the Netherlands v. Russian
Federation), Provisional Measures, Order of 22 November 2013, ITLOS Reports 2013, p. 230 at p. 242,
para. 51; Arctic Sunrise Arbitration (Kingdom of the Netherlands v. Russian Federation), Award on
Jurisdiction of 26 November 2014, para. 60; Arctic Sunrise Arbitration (Kingdom of the Netherlands v.
Russian Federation), Award on the Merits of 14 August 2015, para. 10.

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1.

Steps Taken to Ensure Procedural Fairness to Both Parties

119. Article 9 of Annex VII seeks to balance the risks of prejudice that could be suffered by either
party in a situation of non-participation. First, it protects the participating party by ensuring that
proceedings will not be frustrated by the decision of the other party not to participate. Second,
it protects the rights of the non-participating party by ensuring that a tribunal will not simply
accept the evidence and claims of the participating party by default.33
120. The respective procedural rights of the parties are further articulated in Article 5 of Annex VII,
which provides that “the arbitral tribunal shall determine its own procedure, assuring to each
party a full opportunity to be heard and to present its case.”34
121. The Tribunal has taken a number of measures to safeguard the procedural rights of China. For
example, it has:
(a)

ensured that all communications and materials in the arbitration have been promptly
delivered, both electronically and physically, to the Ambassador of China to the Kingdom
of the Netherlands in The Hague;

(b)

granted China adequate and equal time to submit written responses to the pleadings
submitted by the Philippines;

(c)

invited China (as with the Philippines) to comment on procedural steps taken throughout
the proceedings;

(d)

provided China (as with the Philippines) with adequate notice of hearings and multiple
opportunities to comment on the setting and scheduling of both the Hearing on
Jurisdiction and Hearing on the Merits, as described at paragraphs 47 to 53, 54 to 59
and 61 to 76 above;

(e)

promptly provided to China (as with the Philippines) copies of transcripts of the Hearing
on Jurisdiction and Hearing on the Merits;

(f)

invited China to comment on anything said during the Hearing on Jurisdiction and
Hearing on the Merits;

33
34

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 115.
This duty is mirrored in the Rules of Procedure, art. 10(1) (“the Arbitral Tribunal may conduct the
arbitration in such manner as it considers appropriate, provided that the Parties are treated with equality
and that at any stage of the proceedings each Party is given a full opportunity to be heard and to present
its case.”) and art. 1 (providing for modification or additions to the Rules of Procedure, or novel questions
of procedure, to be addressed “after seeking the views of the Parties.”).

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The South China Sea Arbitration
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(g)

invited China (as with the Philippines) to comment on the proposed candidates and terms
of reference for independent experts appointed by the Tribunal;

(h)

invited China (as with the Philippines) to comment on certain materials in the public
domain, but not already in the case record;

(i)

made the Registry staff available to Chinese Embassy personnel to answer informal
questions of an administrative or procedural nature;

(j)

had the Registry convey written communications from the Chinese Embassy to the
individual members of the Tribunal; and

(k)

reiterated that it remains open to China to participate in the proceedings at any stage.

122. The Tribunal has also taken measures to safeguard the Philippines’ procedural rights. As noted
by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Arctic Sunrise, a participating party
“should not be put at a disadvantage because of the non-appearance of the [non-participating
party] in the proceedings.”35
123. One possible disadvantage of non-participation is delay.

While ensuring equality of

opportunity, the Tribunal has also complied with the obligation in Article 10 of the Rules of
Procedure to “conduct the proceedings so as to avoid unnecessary delay and expense and to
provide a fair and efficient process for resolving the Parties’ dispute.”
124. A second possible disadvantage about which the Philippines expressed concern was that
China’s non-appearance might deprive it of “an opportunity to address any specific issues that
the Arbitral Tribunal considers not to have been canvassed, or to have been canvassed
inadequately.”36 The Tribunal has taken various steps to ensure both Parties the opportunity to
address specific issues of concern to the Tribunal’s decision-making. For example, the Tribunal
introduced the following process into Article 25(2) of its Rules of Procedure:
In the event that a Party does not appear before the Arbitral Tribunal or fails to defend its
case, the Arbitral Tribunal shall invite written arguments from the appearing Party on, or
pose questions regarding, specific issues which the Arbitral Tribunal considers have not
been canvassed, or have been inadequately canvassed, in the pleadings submitted by the
appearing Party. The appearing Party shall make a supplemental written submission in
relation to the matters identified by the Arbitral Tribunal within three months of the
Arbitral Tribunal’s invitation. The supplemental submission of the appearing Party shall be
communicated to the non-appearing Party for its comments which shall be submitted within
three months of the communication of the supplemental submission. The Arbitral Tribunal
may take whatever other steps it may consider necessary, within the scope of its powers
35

36

Arctic Sunrise (Kingdom of the Netherlands v. Russian Federation), Provisional Measures, Order of
22 November 2013, ITLOS Reports 2013, p. 230 at p. 243, para. 56.
Letter from the Philippines to the Tribunal (31 July 2013) (commenting on draft Rules of Procedure).

47

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under the Convention, its Annex VII, and these Rules, to afford to each of the Parties a full
opportunity to present its case. 37

125. The Tribunal implemented the above procedure by issuing a Request for Further Written
Argument on 16 December 2014, containing 26 questions pertaining to jurisdiction and the
merits.

Further, on 23 June 2015, in advance of the Hearing on Jurisdiction, and on

23 November 2015, in advance of the Hearing on the Merits, the Tribunal sent to the Parties
lists of specific issues which it wished to be addressed. During both hearings, following the
first round of arguments, the Tribunal circulated lists of questions to be addressed during the
second round.
126. A third perceived disadvantage that the participating party may face as a result of
non-participation is being put in the “position of having to guess” what the non-participating
party’s arguments might be and to “formulate arguments for both States.”38 The Philippines
suggested that the Tribunal could discern China’s position on the issues raised by the
Philippines’ Submissions by consulting communications from China’s officials, statements of
those associated with the Government of China, and academic literature by individuals closely
associated with Chinese authorities.39 The Tribunal has done so, cognisant of the practice of
international courts and tribunals of taking notice of public statements or informal
communications made by non-appearing Parties.40
127. Concerns about the Philippines “having to guess what China’s arguments might be” were to
some extent alleviated, at least with respect to jurisdiction, by China’s decision to make public
its Position Paper in December 2014. The Position Paper was followed by two letters from the
former Chinese Ambassador, addressed to the members of the Tribunal, and four more-recent
letters from the current Chinese Ambassador. The latter directed the Tribunal’s attention to
statements of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokespersons and other public
statements and materials. Indeed, the Tribunal has taken note of the regular press briefings of
the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which frequently touch on issues before the Tribunal,
and occasionally contain statements exclusively dedicated to aspects of the arbitration. On the
37

38
39
40

The provision contains some elements of Article 3 of the 1991 Resolution on Non-Appearing States
before the International Court of Justice, drafted by the Institut du Droit International.
Award on Jurisdiction, para. 119; Memorial, para. 7.42.
Award on Jurisdiction, para. 119; Memorial, para. 1.23.
See Procedural Order No. 4, p. 5 (21 April 2015), citing as examples Arctic Sunrise (Kingdom of the
Netherlands v. Russian Federation), Provisional Measures, Order of 22 November 2013, ITLOS Reports
2013, p. 230 at p. 243, para. 54; Arctic Sunrise Arbitration (Kingdom of the Netherlands v. Russian
Federation), Award on Jurisdiction of 26 November 2014, para. 44; Fisheries Jurisdiction (United
Kingdom v. Iceland), Merits, Judgment, ICJ Reports 1974, p. 3; Nuclear Tests (Australia v. France),
Judgment, ICJ Reports 1974, p. 253; Aegean Sea Continental Shelf (Greece v. Turkey), Judgment,
ICJ Reports 1978, p. 3.

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very question of China’s non-participation, the Director-General of the Department of Treaty
and Law at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave the following remarks in response to
questions about why China did not participate and whether, having renounced the opportunity to
appear before the Tribunal to contest jurisdiction, China should “bear the consequences”:
First, not accepting or participating in arbitral proceedings is a right enjoyed by a sovereign
State. That is fully in conformity with international law. And certainly, China is not the
first State to do so. For such a proceeding that is deliberately provocative, China has
neither the obligation nor the necessity to accept or participate in it. The Philippines’
initiation of the Arbitration lacks basic grounds in international law. Such an act can
neither generate any validity in international law, nor create any obligation on China.
Second, by not accepting or participating in the arbitral proceedings, we aim to safeguard
the solemnity and integrity of international law, including the UNCLOS, to oppose the
abuse of the compulsory arbitration procedures, and to fulfill our commitments with the
Philippines to settle relevant disputes through negotiations. The commitments were
breached by the Philippines, but China remains committed to them.
Third, the actual objective of the Philippines to initiate the Arbitration and that of some
other States to fuel the fire are not to genuinely resolve disputes. The Philippines was fully
aware that the Arbitral Tribunal has no jurisdiction over disputes concerning territorial
sovereignty and maritime delimitation between the two States; it was fully aware that it was
absolutely not possible that China would accept the compulsory arbitration; and it was also
fully aware that such a means would not help resolve the problem. With full awareness of
the above, the Philippines still decided to abuse the provisions of the UNCLOS by
unilaterally initiating and then pushing forward the arbitral proceedings. Some other States,
who were making every effort to echo it, apparently have their ulterior motives. For such a
game, there is no point for China to humor it.
Fourth, whether or not China accepts and participates in the arbitral proceedings, the
Arbitral Tribunal has the obligation under international law to establish that it does have
jurisdiction over the disputes. But from what we have seen, it apparently has failed to
fulfill the obligation and the ruling would certainly be invalid. So there is no such thing of
China’s taking the consequence of the arbitration. If anything, it is the Philippines that
should bear all the consequences of abusing the UNCLOS.41

128. It is in relation to the fourth point above, “the Tribunal’s obligation under international law to
establish that it does have jurisdiction over the disputes” to which the Tribunal next turns.
2.

Steps Taken by the Tribunal to Satisfy Itself that It Has Jurisdiction and that the
Claim is Well Founded in Fact and Law

129. China’s non-participation imposes a special responsibility on the Tribunal. There is no system
of default judgment under the Convention. As will be apparent in the course of this Award, the
Tribunal does not simply adopt the Philippines’ arguments or accept its assertions untested.
Rather, under the terms of Article 9 of Annex VII, the Tribunal “must satisfy itself not only that
it has jurisdiction over the dispute but also that the claim is well founded in fact and law” before
making any award.
41

See Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Briefing by Xu Hong, Director-General of
the Department of Treaty and Law on the South China Sea Arbitration Initiated by the Philippines
(12 May 2016), available at <www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/wjdt_665385/zyjh_665391/t1364804.shtml>.

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130. The Tribunal has actively sought to satisfy itself as to whether it has jurisdiction over the
dispute. Following China’s decision not to file a Counter-Memorial, the Tribunal requested the
Philippines under Article 25 of the Rules of Procedure to provide further written argument on
certain jurisdictional questions and posed questions to the Philippines both prior to and during
the Hearing on Jurisdiction. China’s Position Paper in December 2014 expounded three main
reasons why it considers that the Tribunal “does not have jurisdiction over this case.”42 The
Tribunal decided to treat the Position Paper and certain communications from China as
constituting, in effect, a plea concerning jurisdiction, which under the Rules of Procedure meant
conducting a hearing and issuing a preliminary ruling dedicated to jurisdiction.43 However, in
line with its duty to satisfy itself that it has jurisdiction, the Tribunal did not limit the hearing to
the three issues raised by China. It also considered, and invited the Parties to address, other
possible jurisdictional questions. These procedures led to the Tribunal’s Award on Jurisdiction,
issued on 29 October 2015 (a summary of which appears at paragraphs 145 to 164 below).
131. With respect to the duty to satisfy itself that the Philippines’ claims are well founded in fact and
law, the Tribunal notes that Article 9 of Annex VII does not operate to change the burden of
proof or to raise or lower the standard of proof normally expected of a party to make out its
claims or defences.44 However, as a practical matter, Article 9 has led the Tribunal to take steps
to test the evidence provided by the Philippines and to augment the record by seeking additional
evidence, expert input, and Party submissions relevant to questions arising in this merits phase,
including as to the status of features in the South China Sea, the allegations concerning
violations of maritime safety obligations, and claims about damage to the marine environment.
These steps are described below.
132. First, pursuant to the procedure established in Article 25 of the Rules of Procedure, in the
Tribunal’s Request for Further Written Argument of 16 December 2014, the Tribunal noted the
Philippines’ argument that “none of the features in the Spratlys—not even the largest among
them—is capable of generating entitlement to an EEZ or a continental shelf.”45 The Tribunal
invited the Philippines to “provide additional historical and anthropological information, as well
as detailed geographic and hydrographic information regarding” Itu Aba, Thitu, and West
York.”46 The Tribunal also invited the Philippines to provide written argument on the status of
42
43
44
45
46

China’s Position Paper, para. 2
See Procedural Order No. 4 (21 April 2015).
See Rules of Procedure, art. 22.
Memorial, para. 5.96.
The Tribunal’s Request for Further Written Argument by the Philippines Pursuant to Article 25(2) of the
Rules of Procedure, Request No. 20, annexed to Procedural Order No. 3 (16 December 2014) (hereinafter
“Request for Further Written Argument”).

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any maritime feature claimed by China—“whether or not occupied by China”—that could
potentially give rise to an entitlement to an exclusive economic zone or continental shelf
extending to any of Mischief Reef, Second Thomas Shoal, Subi Reef, Scarborough Shoal,
Reed Bank, or the areas designated as Philippine oil blocks “Area 3” and “Area 4”. In so doing,
the Philippines was invited to provide “historical and anthropological information, as well as
detailed geographic and hydrographic information” regarding the following features: Spratly
Island, North-East Cay (North Danger Reef); South-West Cay (North Danger Reef); Nanshan
Island; Sand Cay; Loaita Island; Swallow Reef; Amboyna Cay; Flat Island; Lankiam Cay; Great
Discovery Reef; Tizard Bank reefs; and Union Bank reefs.47 In response to this request, the
Philippines submitted with its Supplemental Written Submission an atlas and an expert report
by Professor Clive Schofield, Professor J.R.V. Prescott, and Mr. Robert van der Poll entitled
“An Appraisal of the Geographical Characteristics and Status of Certain Insular Feature in the
South China Sea” (the “Schofield Report”). The atlas provided for each feature: a geographic
and hydrographic description, a satellite image, photographs, excerpts from various sailing
directions and nautical charts, and a summation of the pertinent geographic and hydrographic
information by geographer Dr. Robert W. Smith.48
133. Second, in accordance with Article 24 of the Rules of Procedure, and after seeking the views of
the Parties, the Tribunal retained an independent technical expert—Mr. Grant Boyes—to assist
it in “reviewing and analysing geographic and hydrographic information, photographs, satellite
imagery and other technical data in order to enable the Arbitral Tribunal to assess the status (as
a submerged feature, low-tide elevation, or island)” of the features named in the Philippines’
Submissions or any other such feature determined to be relevant during the course of the
reference. While the appointment of hydrographic experts is common practice in Annex VII
arbitrations,49 in light of China’s non-participation, Mr. Boyes was also tasked with assisting with
a “critical assessment of relevant expert advice and opinions submitted by the Philippines.”50

47
48

49

50

Request for Further Written Argument, Request No. 22.
Supplemental Written Submission of the Philippines, Vol. II (16 March 2015) (hereinafter
“Supplemental Written Submission”).
See, e.g., Guyana v. Suriname, Award of 17 September 2007, PCA Award Series at pp. 52-54, RIAA
Vol. XXX, p. 1, at pp. 27-29, para. 108; Barbados v. Trinidad and Tobago, Award of 11 April 2006, PCA
Award Series at p. 33, RIAA Vol. XXVII, p. 147 at p. 160, para. 37; Bay of Bengal Maritime Boundary
Arbitration (Bangladesh v. India), Award of 7 July 2014, paras. 15-17.
Terms of Reference for Expert, Mr. Grant Boyes, para. 3.1.1 (10 September 2015). As mentioned at
paragraph 3.2, it was noted that in providing the Tribunal with technical assistance, the expert “shall
respect that it is the Arbitral Tribunal, and not the Expert, that makes any determination as to legal
questions, in particular the application of Article 121(3) of the Convention.”

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134. Third, the Tribunal posed to Professor Schofield a series of written and oral questions during the
Hearing on the Merits, about his testimony, his earlier writings, and specific points in the
Schofield Report.51
135. Fourth, the Tribunal similarly posed written and oral questions to Professor Kent Carpenter,
who submitted two expert reports for the Philippines about the environmental consequences of
China’s conduct in the South China Sea.52 Professor Carpenter’s second report was submitted,
inter alia, to adequately address the issues identified by the Tribunal in its “Annex of Issues”
circulated in advance of the Hearing on the Merits.53
136. Fifth, in light of China’s non-participation, the Tribunal decided to appoint coral reef ecology
experts to provide their independent opinion on the impact of Chinese construction activities on
the coral reef systems in the Spratly Islands.

A team composed of Dr. Sebastian Ferse,

Professor Peter Mumby, and Dr. Selina Ward prepared a report (the “Ferse Report”), on which
both sides were invited to comment. In the course of preparing the report, some follow-up
questions were put to the Philippines about sources relied on in the Carpenter Report, a process
through which the Tribunal gained yet further information.54
137. Sixth, the Tribunal has made efforts to understand China’s stance on environmental issues,
including having (a) asked the Philippines and Professor Carpenter to identify any statements
made by Chinese Government officials that suggest China had taken into account issues of
ecological preservation and followed environmental protection standards in connection with its
construction work;55 (b) presented to the Parties for their comment a number of official Chinese
statements and reports from Chinese State-sponsored scientific institutes concerning the
ecological impact of the construction work;56 (c) specifically and directly asked China whether
51

52

53
54

55

56

Letter from the Tribunal to the Parties with Annex of Questions (10 November 2015); Letter from the
Tribunal to the Parties, Annex B: Questions for Prof. Schofield (27 November 2015); Merits Hearing Tr.
(Day 3), pp. 3-10; Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), pp. 43-66.
K.E. Carpenter, Eastern South China Sea Environmental Disturbances and Irresponsible Fishing
Practices and their Effects on Coral Reefs and Fisheries (22 March 2014) (Annex 240) (hereinafter
“First Carpenter Report”); K.E. Carpenter & L.M. Chou, Environmental Consequences of Land
Reclamation Activities on Various Reefs in the South China Sea (14 November 2015) (Annex 699)
(hereinafter “Second Carpenter Report”); Letter from the Tribunal to the Parties with Annex of
Questions (10 November 2015); Letter from the Tribunal to the Parties, Annex C: Questions for
Prof. Carpenter (27 November 2015); Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 3), pp. 48-54; Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4),
pp. 138-162. See also Supplemental Response to Question from Judge Wolfrum (18 December 2016);
Declaration of Prof. Kent E. Carpenter, Ph.D. (24 April 2016).
Letter from the Philippines to the Tribunal (14 November 2016).
Letter from the Tribunal to Parties (1 April 2016); Letter from the Philippines to the Tribunal (26 April
2016).
Letter from the Tribunal to Parties, Annex A: Questions for the Philippines, Annex C: Questions for
Prof. Carpenter (27 November 2015); Hearing Tr. (Day 3), p. 198.
Letter from the Tribunal to Parties (5 February 2016).

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it had undertaken an environmental impact study and if so, for the Tribunal to be provided with
a copy.57 While China declined to comment, the Tribunal has taken note of its recent official
statements to the effect that “[a]s owners of the Nansha Islands, China cares about protecting the
ecological environment of relevant islands, reefs and waters more than any other country,
organization or people of the world” and that “[b]ased on thorough studies and scientific proof,
China adopts dynamic protection measures along the whole process so as to combine
construction with ecological environmental protection and realize sustainable development of
islands and reefs.”58 As noted below in Chapter VII.D, neither the Tribunal nor its experts,
however, have managed to retrieve copies of such studies.
138. Seventh, in relation to the Philippines’ Submission No. 13, alleging dangerous manoeuvring by
Chinese law enforcement vessels in breach of the Convention’s maritime safety obligations, the
Tribunal considered it appropriate to appoint an expert to review the available documentary
material and draw independent conclusions. In accordance with Article 24 of the Rules of
Procedure and having consulted the Parties, the Tribunal commissioned a report by Captain
Gurpreet Singhota (the “Singhota Report”).
139. Eighth, in accordance with Article 22 of the Rules of Procedure, which provides that the
Tribunal may “take all appropriate measures in order to establish the facts,” and Article 25,
which states that the Tribunal “may take whatever other steps it may consider necessary . . . to
afford to each of the Parties a full opportunity to present its case,” the Tribunal has on several
occasions invited the Parties to comment on various sources concerning the prevailing
conditions on features in the South China Sea, including some materials in the public domain
emanating from the Taiwan Authority of China. 59

The Philippines has responded with

comments both during the hearings and in written submissions after the hearings. 60 On
11 March 2016, the Philippines submitted written comments, accompanied by two new expert
reports on soil and water quality at Itu Aba.61 On 25 April 2016, the Philippines responded to

57
58

59

60

61

Letter from the Tribunal to Parties (5 February 2016).
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei’s
Regular Press Conference (6 May 2015), available at <www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/
s2510_665401/2511_665403/t1361284.shtml>.
See, e.g., Letter from the Tribunal to the Parties (10 November 2015); Letter from the Tribunal to the
Parties (5 February 2016); Letter from the Tribunal to the Parties (1 April 2016).
See, e.g., Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 1), p. 87, n. 123, p. 94, n. 141; Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp.114,
120-21; Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), pp. 46-50; Request for Further Written Argument, pp. 3-7;
Supplemental Written Submission, Vols. I and II.
Written Responses of the Philippines to the Tribunal’s 5 February 2016 Request for Comments
(11 March 2016) (hereinafter “Written Responses of the Philippines (11 March 2016)”); R.T. Bailey,
Groundwater Resources Analysis of Itu Aba (9 March 2016) (Annex 878) (hereinafter “First Bailey
Report”); P.P. Motavalli, Expert Report on Soil Resources and Potential Self-Sustaining Agricultural

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an invitation to comment further on additional Taiwanese materials. While the Philippines
considered that it would have been “within its rights in requesting, and the Tribunal would be
well-justified in finding, that these materials should be disregarded,” it nevertheless
“recognize[d] the exceptional difficulties China’s non-appearance has created for the Tribunal”
and chose “not to object to the Tribunal’s consideration of Taiwan’s most recent materials.” 62
Accordingly, the Philippines provided comments, translations and exhibits, and supplementary
expert reports. China did not submit comments to the Tribunal in response to these materials,
though its public statements on relevant questions have been noted.63
140. Ninth, the Tribunal sought the Parties’ views on records obtained from the UKHO. Prior to the
Hearing on the Merits, the Tribunal had requested the Philippines to confirm “whether it has
sought and been able to obtain copies of hydrographic survey plans (fair charts), relating in
particular to those surveys undertaken by the United Kingdom in the Nineteenth Century and by
Japan in the period leading up to the Second World War.”64 The Philippines replied that it had
not and explained that it considered it unnecessary to do so.65 On 1 April 2016, the Tribunal
informed the Parties that it considered it appropriate to have reference, to the greatest extent
possible, to original records based on the direct observation of the features in question, prior to
them having been subjected to significant human modification.

As the most extensive

hydrographic survey work in the South China Sea prior to 1945 was carried out by the Royal
Navy of the United Kingdom, followed closely by the Imperial Japanese Navy, the Tribunal
advised that it had undertaken to seek records from the archives of the UKHO, which also hold
certain Japanese records captured during the Second World War. The Tribunal provided copies
of records to the Parties and invited their comments, which the Philippines provided on 28 April
2016.
141. Tenth, the Tribunal also considered it appropriate to consult French material from the 1930s in
light of France’s occupation of the Spratly Islands announced in 193366 and in order to gain a
more complete picture as to the natural conditions of the South China Sea features.
Accordingly, the Tribunal sought records from the online database of the Bibliothèque
Nationale de France and from the Archives Nationales d’Outre-Mer. On 26 May 2016, the

62
63
64
65
66

Production on Itu Aba (Expert Report, 9 March 2016) (Annex 879) (hereinafter “First Motavalli
Report”).
Written Responses of the Philippines on Itu Aba (25 April 2016), paras. 7-8.
Letter from the Tribunal to the Parties (1 April 2016).
Letter from the Tribunal to the Parties (10 November 2015).
See Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 38.
Republic of France, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Notice Relating to the Occupation of Certain Island by
French Naval Unites, 1933,” Official Journal of the French Republic, p. 7837 (26 July 1933)
(Annex 159).

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Tribunal provided the Parties with the most pertinent documents obtained from those sources
and allowed them an opportunity to comment.

The Philippines sent its comments, with

supplementary materials, on 3 June 2016.
142. As explained in the Tribunal’s communications to the Parties, the Tribunal considered historical
records concerning conditions on features in the Spratly Islands, prior to them having been
subjected to significant human modification, to be more relevant than evidence of the situation
currently prevailing, which reflects the efforts of the various littoral States to improve the
habitability of features under their control.

Accordingly, although the Tribunal has fully

considered the contemporary evidence provided by the Philippines, as well as certain materials
made public by the Taiwan Authority of China, the Tribunal has not itself sought additional
materials on contemporary conditions on any feature in the Spratlys. The Tribunal has, for the
same reason, not sought to take advantage of the Taiwan Authority of China’s public offer to
arrange a site visit to Itu Aba. In this respect the Tribunal notes that China, through its
Ambassador’s letter of 6 February 2015, objected strongly to the possibility of any site visit to
the South China Sea by the Tribunal.67
3.

Conclusion on the Legal and Practical Consequences of China’s Non-Participation

143. For reasons set out above, despite its non-participation in the proceedings, China is a Party to
the arbitration and is bound under international law by any awards rendered by the Tribunal.
144. In line with its duties under Annex VII to the Convention, in the circumstances of China’s
non-participation, the Tribunal has taken steps to ensure procedural fairness to both Parties
without compromising the efficiency of the proceedings. The Tribunal has also taken steps to
ascertain China’s position on the issues for decision, based on statements made by Chinese
officials publicly and in communications to the members of the Tribunal. In addition to its
thorough review of the materials placed before it by the Philippines, the Tribunal has also taken
steps to satisfy itself of its jurisdiction and the legal and factual foundations of the Philippines’
claims through obtaining independent expert input, reviewing other materials in the public
domain, and inviting further comments from the Parties on those sources.

67

Letter from the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to the Netherlands to the individual
members of the Tribunal (6 February 2015) (“The Chinese Government underlines that China opposes the
initiation of the arbitration and any measures to push forward the arbitral proceeding, holds an omnibus
objection to all procedural applications or steps that would require some kind of response from China,
such as ‘intervention by other States’, ‘amicus curiae submissions’ and ‘site visit’.”). The Philippines
also noted that a site visit “would present certain challenges.” Letter from the Philippines to the Tribunal
(26 January 2015).

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B.

SUMMARY OF THE TRIBUNAL’S AWARD ON JURISDICTION

145. Pursuant to Article 288(4) of the Convention, “[i]n the event of a dispute as to whether a court
or tribunal has jurisdiction, the matter shall be settled by decision of that court or tribunal.” As
set out above, where a Party does not appear before the Tribunal, Article 9 of Annex VII to the
Convention requires that “the arbitral tribunal must satisfy itself not only that it has jurisdiction
over the dispute but also that the claim is well founded in fact and law.” Additionally, the Rules
of Procedure adopted by the Tribunal provide at Article 20(3) as follows:
The Arbitral Tribunal shall rule on any plea concerning its jurisdiction as a preliminary
question, unless the Arbitral Tribunal determines, after seeking the views of the Parties, that
the objection to its jurisdiction does not possess an exclusively preliminary character, in
which case it shall rule on such a plea in conjunction with the merits. 68

146. China’s Position Paper was said by the Chinese Ambassador to have “comprehensively
explain[ed] why the Arbitral Tribunal . . . manifestly has no jurisdiction over the case.”69 In its
Procedural Order No. 4 of 21 April 2015, the Tribunal recalled the practice of international
courts and tribunals in interstate disputes of (a) taking note of public statements or informal
communications made by non-appearing Parties, (b) treating such statements and
communications as equivalent to or as constituting preliminary objections, and (c) bifurcating
proceedings to address some or all of such objections as preliminary questions.70 The Tribunal
considered that:
the communications by China, including notably its Position Paper of 7 December 2015
and the Letter of 6 February 2015 from the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China
to the Netherlands, effectively constitute a plea concerning this Arbitral Tribunal’s
jurisdiction for the purposes of Article 20 of the Rules of Procedure and will be treated as
such for the purposes of this arbitration.71

147. Accordingly, the Tribunal decided:
in light of the circumstances and its duty to “assure to each Party a full opportunity to be
heard and to present its case,” it is appropriate to bifurcate the proceedings and to convene a
68

Rules of Procedure, art. 20(3).

69

Letter from the Ambassador of China to the Netherlands to the individual members of the Tribunal
(6 February 2015).

70

See, e.g., Arctic Sunrise (Kingdom of the Netherlands v. Russian Federation), Provisional Measures,
Order of 22 November 2013, ITLOS Reports 2013, para. 54; Arctic Sunrise Arbitration (Kingdom of the
Netherlands v. Russian Federation), Award on Jurisdiction of 26 November 2014, para. 44 (referring to
Procedural Order No. 4, 21 November 2004); Fisheries Jurisdiction (United Kingdom v. Iceland),
Jurisdiction of the Court, Judgment, ICJ Reports 1973, p. 3 at pp. 5-8, paras. 3, 5, 10-12; Fisheries
Jurisdiction (Federal Republic of Germany v. Iceland), Jurisdiction of the Court, Judgment, ICJ Reports
1973, p. 49 at pp. 50-54, paras. 3, 5, 10-11, 13; Nuclear Tests (Australia v. France), Judgment,
ICJ Reports 1974, p. 253 at pp. 255-257, paras. 4, 6, 13-15; Nuclear Tests (New Zealand v. France),
Judgment, ICJ Reports 1974, p. 457 at pp. 458-461, paras. 4, 6, 13-15; Aegean Sea Continental Shelf
(Greece v. Turkey), Judgment, ICJ Reports 1978, p. 3 at pp. 19-20, paras. 44-47.

71

Procedural Order No. 4, para. 1.1 (21 April 2015).

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hearing to consider the matter of the Arbitral Tribunal’s jurisdiction and, as necessary, the
admissibility of the Philippines’ submissions.”72

148. The Tribunal also noted that it would not limit itself to hearing only the questions raised in
China’s Position Paper.73 The Tribunal accordingly convened the Hearing on Jurisdiction in
The Hague on 7, 8, and 13 July 2015 and issued its Award on Jurisdiction on 29 October 2015.
The principal findings of that decision are recalled herein.
1.

Preliminary Matters

149. In its Award on Jurisdiction, the Tribunal noted that “both the Philippines and China are parties
to the Convention”74 and that the provisions for the settlement of disputes, including through
arbitration, form an integral part of the Convention.75 Although the Convention specifies certain
limitations and exceptions to the subject matter of the disputes that may be submitted to
compulsory settlement, it does not permit other reservations, and a State may not except itself
generally from the Convention’s mechanism for the resolution of disputes.76
150. The Tribunal also noted China’s non-participation and held that this fact does not deprive the
Tribunal of jurisdiction. In this respect, the Tribunal recalled the provisions of Article 9 of
Annex VII to the Convention.
151. Although China did not participate in the constitution of the Tribunal, the Tribunal held that it
had been properly constituted pursuant to the provisions of Annex VII to the Convention.77 The
Tribunal detailed the steps it had taken to satisfy itself regarding its jurisdiction, including
through questions posed to the Philippines and through the Hearing on Jurisdiction in
July 2015.78 The Tribunal also recalled the steps it had taken to safeguard the procedural rights
of both Parties in the circumstances of China’s non-participation.79
152. Finally, the Tribunal considered the argument set out in China’s Position Paper that the
Philippines’ unilateral resort to arbitration constituted an abuse of the dispute settlement

72

Procedural Order No. 4, para. 1.3 (21 April 2015).

73

Procedural Order No. 4, para. 1.4 (21 April 2015).

74

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 106.

75

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 2.

76

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 107

77

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 413(A).

78

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 26-97, 112-123.

79

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 117-120.

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provisions of the Convention. 80 The Tribunal noted that, although certain provisions of the
Convention address the abuse of rights and provide a preliminary procedure to dismiss claims
that are facially unfounded, it was more appropriate to consider China’s concerns about the
Tribunal’s jurisdiction as a preliminary objection.81 The Tribunal also noted that “the mere act
of unilaterally initiating an arbitration under Part XV in itself cannot constitute an abuse” of the
Convention.82
2.

Existence of a Dispute concerning Interpretation and Application of the Convention

153. The Tribunal next considered whether there is a dispute between the Parties concerning the
interpretation or application of the Convention, which is the basis for the dispute settlement
mechanisms of the Convention.83 In so doing, the Tribunal considered two objections set out in
China’s Position Paper: first, that the Parties’ dispute is actually about sovereignty over the
islands of the South China Sea and therefore not a matter concerning the Convention, and
second, that the Parties’ dispute is actually about the delimitation of the maritime boundary
between them and therefore excluded from dispute settlement by an exception set out in the
Convention that States may activate by declaration. China activated the exception for disputes
concerning sea boundary delimitations when it made a declaration in 2006.
154. With respect to the former objection, the Tribunal noted that there is a dispute between the
Parties regarding sovereignty over islands, but held that the matters submitted to arbitration by
the Philippines do not concern sovereignty.84 The Tribunal considered it to be expected that the
Philippines and China would have disputes regarding multiple subjects, but emphasised that the
Tribunal did not accept that “it follows from the existence of a dispute over sovereignty that
sovereignty is also the appropriate characterisation of the claims the Philippines has submitted
in these proceedings.”85 The Tribunal also emphasised that “[t]he Philippines has not asked the
Tribunal to rule on sovereignty and, indeed, has expressly and repeatedly requested that the
Tribunal refrain from so doing.”86 The Tribunal emphasised that it did “not see that any of the
Philippines’ Submissions require an implicit determination of sovereignty.” 87 Finally, the
80

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 124-129.

81

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 128.

82

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 126.

83

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 148-178.

84

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 152-154.

85

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 152.

86

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 153.

87

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 153.

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Tribunal observed that it was “fully conscious of the limits on the claims submitted to it and, to
the extent that it reaches the merits of any of the Philippines’ Submissions, intends to ensure
that its decision neither advances nor detracts from either Party’s claims to land sovereignty in
the South China Sea.”88
155. With respect to the latter objection, the Tribunal noted that a dispute concerning whether a State
possesses an entitlement to a maritime zone is a distinct matter from the delimitation of
maritime zones in an area in which they overlap. 89 While a wide variety of issues are
commonly considered in the course of delimiting a maritime boundary, it does not follow that a
dispute over each of these issues is necessarily a dispute over boundary delimitation. In
particular, the Tribunal emphasised that:
A maritime boundary may be delimited only between States with opposite or adjacent
coasts and overlapping entitlements. In contrast, a dispute over claimed entitlements may
exist even without overlap, where—for instance—a State claims maritime zones in an area
understood by other States to form part of the high seas or the Area for the purposes of the
Convention.90

Accordingly, the Tribunal held that the claims presented by the Philippines do not concern sea
boundary delimitation and are not, therefore, subject to the exception to the dispute settlement
provisions of the Convention. 91 The Tribunal also emphasised that the Philippines had not
asked it to delimit any boundary.92
156. Turning to the matters raised in the Philippines’ Submissions, the Tribunal reviewed the record
to determine whether disputes existed between the Parties at the time the Philippines
commenced this arbitration and whether such disputes concerned the interpretation and
application of the Convention.93 In so doing, the Tribunal noted that it was necessary to address
some ambiguity regarding China’s position on the matters before it and recalled that the
existence of a dispute may be inferred from the conduct of a State, or from silence, and is a
matter to be determined objectively.94 The Tribunal considered that each of the Philippines’
claims reflected a dispute concerning the Convention95 and noted in particular that a dispute

88

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 153.

89

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 155-157.

90

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 156.

91

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 157.

92

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 157.

93

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 158-178.

94

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 159-163.

95

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 164-178.

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concerning the interaction between the Convention and other rights (including any Chinese
historic rights) is a dispute concerning the Convention.96
3.

Involvement of Indispensable Third Parties

157. Having identified the disputes presented by the Philippines’ Submissions, the Tribunal
considered whether the absence from this arbitration of other States, such as Viet Nam, that
have claims to the islands of the South China Sea would be a bar to the Tribunal’s jurisdiction.97
The Tribunal noted that this arbitration differs from past cases in which a court or tribunal has
found the involvement of a third party to be indispensable.98 The Tribunal recalled that “the
determination of the nature of and entitlements generated by the maritime features in the South
China Sea does not require a decision on issues of territorial sovereignty” and held accordingly
that “[t]he legal rights and obligations of Viet Nam therefore do not need to be determined as a
prerequisite to the determination of the merits of the case.”99 The Tribunal also recalled that, in
December 2014, Viet Nam submitted a “Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of
Viet Nam” for the Tribunal’s attention, in which Viet Nam asserted that it has “no doubt that the
Tribunal has jurisdiction in these proceedings.”100
4.

Preconditions to Jurisdiction

158. The Tribunal then considered the preconditions to jurisdiction set out in the Convention.
Although the dispute settlement mechanism of the Convention provides for compulsory
settlement, including through arbitration, it also permits parties to agree on the settlement of
disputes through alternative means of their own choosing.

Articles 281 and 282 of the

Convention may prevent a State from making use of the mechanisms under the Convention if
they have already agreed to another means of dispute resolution. Article 283 also requires the
Parties to exchange views regarding the settlement of their dispute before beginning arbitration.
159. The Tribunal considered the applicability of Articles 281 and 282 to the following instruments
to determine whether the Parties had agreed to another means of dispute settlement: (a) the
2002 China–ASEAN Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (the
“DOC”), (b) a series of joint statements issued by the Philippines and China referring to the
96

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 168.

97

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 179-188.

98

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 181.

99

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 180.

100

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 183.

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resolution of disputes through negotiations, (c) the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in
Southeast Asia, and (d) the Convention on Biological Diversity (the “CBD”). The Tribunal
held that the DOC is a political agreement and “was not intended to be a legally binding
agreement with respect to dispute resolution,” 101 does not provide a mechanism for binding
settlement,102 and does not exclude other means of settlement.103 The Tribunal reached the same
conclusion with respect to the joint statements identified in China’s Position Paper. 104 With
respect to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia and the CBD, the Tribunal
noted that both are legally binding agreements with their own procedures for disputes, but that
neither provides a binding mechanism and neither excludes other procedures.105 Additionally,
the Tribunal noted that although there is overlap between the environmental provisions of the
UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the CBD, this does not mean that a dispute
concerning one instrument is necessarily a dispute concerning the other or that the
environmental claims brought by the Philippines should instead be considered under the
framework of the CBD.106 Accordingly, the Tribunal concluded that none of these instruments
prevent the Philippines from bringing its claims to arbitration.
160. With respect to the exchange of views on the settlement of the dispute, the Tribunal held that
Article 283 requires parties to exchange views on the means of settling their dispute, not the
substance of that dispute.107 The Tribunal held that this requirement was met in the record of
diplomatic communications between the Philippines and China, in which the Philippines
expressed a clear preference for multilateral negotiations involving the other States surrounding
the South China Sea while China insisted that only bilateral talks could be considered.108 The
Tribunal also considered whether, independently of Article 283, the Philippines was under an
obligation to pursue negotiations before resorting to arbitration.109 In this respect, the Tribunal
held that the Philippines had sought to negotiate with China 110 and noted that it is well

101

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 217.

102

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 300.

103

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 222.

104

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 241-251, 301.

105

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 265-269, 281-289, 307-310, 317-321.

106

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 284-285.

107

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 333.

108

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 337-342.

109

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 344-351.

110

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 347.

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established that international law does not require a State to continue negotiations when it
concludes that the possibility of a negotiated solution has been exhausted.111
5.

Exceptions and Limitations to Jurisdiction

161. Finally, the Tribunal examined the subject matter limitations to its jurisdiction set out in
Articles 297 and 298 of the Convention. Article 297 automatically limits the jurisdiction a
tribunal may exercise over disputes concerning marine scientific research or the living resources
of the exclusive economic zone. Article 298 provides for further exceptions from compulsory
settlement that a State may activate by declaration for disputes concerning (a) sea boundary
delimitations, (b) historic bays and titles, (c) law enforcement activities, and (d) military
activities. By declaration on 25 August 2006, China activated all of these exceptions.
162. The Tribunal considered that the applicability of these limitations and exceptions may depend
upon certain aspects of the merits of the Philippines’ claims:
(a)

First, the Tribunal noted that its jurisdiction may depend on the nature and validity of any
claim by China to historic rights in the South China Sea and whether such rights are
covered by the exclusion from jurisdiction of “historic bays or titles.”112

(b)

Second, the Tribunal noted that its jurisdiction may depend on the status of certain
maritime features in the South China Sea and whether the Philippines and China possess
overlapping entitlements to maritime zones in the South China Sea. If so, the Tribunal
may not be able to reach the merits of certain claims because they would first require a
delimitation of the overlapping zones (which the Tribunal is not empowered to do).113

(c)

Third, the Tribunal noted that its jurisdiction may depend on the maritime zone in which
alleged Chinese law enforcement activities in fact took place.114

(d)

Fourth, the Tribunal noted that its jurisdiction may depend on whether certain Chinese
activities are military in nature.115

163. The Tribunal recalled that its Rules of Procedure call for it to rule on objections to jurisdiction
as a preliminary matter, but permitted it to rule on such objections in conjunction with the
111

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 350.

112

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 393.

113

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 394.

114

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 395.

115

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 396.

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merits if the objection “does not possess an exclusively preliminary character.”

For the

foregoing reasons, the Tribunal concluded that it was able, at that time, to rule that it has
jurisdiction over certain of the claims brought by the Philippines, but that others were not
exclusively preliminary and would be deferred for further consideration in conjunction with the
merits.116
6.

Decisions of the Tribunal

164. In its Award, the Tribunal unanimously concluded that it:
A.

FINDS that the Tribunal was properly constituted in accordance with Annex VII to
the Convention.

B.

FINDS that China’s non-appearance in these proceedings does not deprive the
Tribunal of jurisdiction.

C.

FINDS that the Philippines’ act of initiating this arbitration did not constitute an
abuse of process.

D.

FINDS that there is no indispensable third party whose absence deprives the
Tribunal of jurisdiction.

E.

FINDS that the 2002 China–ASEAN Declaration on Conduct of the Parties in the
South China Sea, the joint statements of the Parties referred to in paragraphs 231 to
232 of this Award, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, and the
Convention on Biological Diversity, do not preclude, under Articles 281 or 282 of
the Convention, recourse to the compulsory dispute settlement procedures available
under Section 2 of Part XV of the Convention.

F.

FINDS that the Parties have exchanged views as required by Article 283 of the
Convention.

G.

FINDS that the Tribunal has jurisdiction to consider the Philippines’ Submissions
No. 3, 4, 6, 7, 10, 11, and 13, subject to the conditions noted in paragraphs 400, 401,
403, 404, 407, 408, and 410 of this Award.

H.

FINDS that a determination of whether the Tribunal has jurisdiction to consider the
Philippines’ Submissions No. 1, 2, 5, 8, 9, 12, and 14 would involve consideration
of issues that do not possess an exclusively preliminary character, and accordingly
RESERVES consideration of its jurisdiction to rule on Submissions No. 1, 2, 5, 8, 9,
12, and 14 to the merits phase.

I.

DIRECTS the Philippines to clarify the content and narrow the scope of its
Submission 15 and RESERVES consideration of its jurisdiction over Submission
No. 15 to the merits phase.

J.

RESERVES for further consideration and directions all issues not decided in this
Award.117

116

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 397-412.

117

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 413.

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C.

THE STATUS AND EFFECT OF THE TRIBUNAL’S AWARD ON JURISDICTION

165. The Tribunal’s Award on Jurisdiction is an “award of the arbitral tribunal” for the purposes of
Article 10 of Annex VII to the Convention. 118 Pursuant to Article 11 of Annex VII to the
Convention, “[t]he award shall be final and without appeal, unless the parties to the dispute have
agreed in advance to an appellate procedure. It shall be complied with by the parties to the
dispute.”119
166. The Tribunal is conscious that China has not, to date, accepted the decisions in the Tribunal’s
Award on Jurisdiction and has stated that the Award “is null and void, and has no binding effect
on China.”120 The Tribunal is also conscious that China has continued to assert publicly that the
Tribunal lacks jurisdiction for the same reasons set out in China’s Position Paper of 7 December
2014, specifically that:
(a)

“First, the essence of the subject-matter of the arbitration is territorial sovereignty over
several maritime features in the South China Sea, which is beyond the scope of the
UNCLOS.”121

(b)

“Second, even assuming some of the claims were concerned with the interpretation and
application of the UNCLOS, they would still be an integral part of maritime delimitation,
which has been excluded by China through its 2006 Declaration and consequently is not
subject to compulsory arbitration.”122

(c)

“Third, given that China and the Philippines have agreed to settle their disputes in the
South China Sea through negotiation, the Philippines is precluded from initiating
arbitration unilaterally.”123

118

Convention, Annex VII, art. 10.

119

Convention, Annex VII, art. 11.

120

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of
the People’s Republic of China on the Award on Jurisdiction and Admissibility of the South China Sea
Arbitration by the Arbitral Tribunal Established at the Request of the Republic of the Philippines
(30 October 2015) (Annex 649).

121

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Briefing by Xu Hong, Director-General of the
Department of Treaty and Law on the South China Sea Arbitration Initiated by the Philippines
(12 May 2016), available at <www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/wjdt_665385/zyjh_665391/t1364804.shtml>.

122

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Briefing by Xu Hong, Director-General of the
Department of Treaty and Law on the South China Sea Arbitration Initiated by the Philippines
(12 May 2016), available at <www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/wjdt_665385/zyjh_665391/t1364804.shtml>.

123

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Briefing by Xu Hong, Director-General of the
Department of Treaty and Law on the South China Sea Arbitration Initiated by the Philippines
(12 May 2016), available at <www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/wjdt_665385/zyjh_665391/t1364804.shtml>.

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(d)

“Fourth, the Philippines failed to fulfill the obligation of exchanging views with China on
the means of dispute settlement.”124

China has also continued to assert its view that (e) “the Philippines’ initiation of the arbitration
is a typical abuse of compulsory arbitral procedures stipulated in the UNCLOS.”125
167. The Tribunal considers that each of these objections—concerning (a) the link between
sovereignty and the Philippines’ claims,126 (b) the link between maritime delimitation and the
Philippines’ claims,127 (c) the effect of the DOC,128 (d) the Parties’ exchange of views on the
settlement of the dispute prior to the commencement of the arbitration, 129 and (e) the
appropriateness of the Philippines’ recourse to arbitration 130 —has been fully addressed and
decided in the Tribunal’s Award on Jurisdiction, in keeping with the Tribunal’s power pursuant
to Article 288(4) to decide any dispute concerning the scope of its own jurisdiction.
168. For the avoidance of doubt, the Tribunal hereby reaffirms in full, and incorporates by reference,
the conclusions and reasoning set out in its Award on Jurisdiction.

*

*

*

124

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Briefing by Xu Hong, Director-General of the
Department of Treaty and Law on the South China Sea Arbitration Initiated by the Philippines
(12 May 2016), available at <www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/wjdt_665385/zyjh_665391/t1364804.shtml>.

125

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Briefing by Xu Hong, Director-General of the
Department of Treaty and Law on the South China Sea Arbitration Initiated by the Philippines
(12 May 2016), available at <www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/wjdt_665385/zyjh_665391/t1364804.shtml>.

126

See Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 152-154.

127

See Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 155-157.

128

See Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 212-229, 299-300.

129

See Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 332-352.

130

See Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 124-129.

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V.

THE ‘NINE-DASH LINE’ AND CHINA’S CLAIM TO HISTORIC RIGHTS IN THE
MARITIME AREAS OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA (SUBMISSIONS NO. 1 AND 2)

A.

INTRODUCTION

169. In this Chapter, the Tribunal addresses the Parties’ dispute reflected in the Philippines’
Submissions No. 1 and 2, which request the Tribunal to hold that China is entitled only to those
rights provided for by the Convention and that these rights are not supplemented or modified by
any historic rights, including within the area marked by the ‘nine-dash line’ on Chinese maps.131
Submissions No. 1 and 2 are expressed as follows:
(1)

China’s maritime entitlements in the South China Sea, like those of the Philippines,
may not extend beyond those expressly permitted by the United Nations Convention
on the Law of the Sea (“UNCLOS” or the “Convention”);

(2)

China’s claims to sovereign rights jurisdiction, and to “historic rights” with respect
to the maritime areas of the South China Sea encompassed by the so called “nine
dash line” are contrary to the Convention and without lawful effect to the extent that
they exceed the geographic and substantive limits of China’s maritime entitlements
expressly permitted by UNCLOS;

170. In its Award on Jurisdiction, the Tribunal held that these Submissions reflect a dispute
concerning the source of maritime entitlements in the South China Sea and the interaction of
China’s claimed historic rights with the provisions of the Convention.132 This dispute does not
concern sovereignty, insofar as the Philippines has asked the Tribunal to determine the source of
rights to maritime areas, and not to decide sovereignty over any land features within the South
China Sea.133 The Tribunal also held that this dispute does not concern maritime boundary
delimitation.134 Finally, the Tribunal emphasised that “[a] dispute concerning the interaction of
the Convention with another instrument or body of law, including the question of whether rights

131

As noted in the Award on Jurisdiction at p. 62, n.121, the ‘nine-dash line’ refers to the dashed line
depicted on maps accompanying the Note Verbale from the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic
of China to the United Nations to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, No. CML/17/2009 (7 May
2009) (Annex 191); Note Verbale from the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the
United Nations to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, No. CML/18/2009 (7 May 2009)
(Annex 192). The Tribunal’s use of the term ‘nine-dash line’ is not to be understood as recognising any
particular nomenclature or map as correct or authoritative. The Tribunal observes that different terms
have been used at different times and by different entities to refer to this line. For example, China refers
to “China’s dotted line in the South China Sea” (China’s Position Paper, para. 8); Viet Nam refers to the
“nine-dash line” (Viet Nam’s Statement, paras. 2(iii)-(iv), 4(i)); Indonesia has referred to the “so called
‘nine-dotted-lines map’ (Note Verbale from the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Indonesia to the
United Nations to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, No. 480/POL-703/VII/10 (8 July 2010)
(Annex 197); and some commentators have referred to it as the “Cow’s Tongue” and “U-Shaped Line.”
As noted below at paragraph 181, the Tribunal observes that the number of dashes varies, depending on
the date and version of the map consulted.

132

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 164-168.

133

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 152-154.

134

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 155-157.

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arising under another body of law were or were not preserved by the Convention, is
unequivocally a dispute concerning the interpretation and application of the Convention.”135
171. However, the Tribunal held that a final determination on its jurisdiction with respect to the
Parties’ dispute is dependent on the nature of any historic rights claimed by China and whether
they are covered by the exclusion from jurisdiction in Article 298 of the Convention for disputes
concerning “historic bays or titles.”

Accordingly, the Tribunal deferred a decision on its

jurisdiction for consideration in conjunction with the merits of the Philippines’ claims. 136
B.

CHINA’S DECLARATIONS AND LEGISLATION CONCERNING ENTITLEMENTS TO MARITIME
ZONES

172. China has set out its claims to maritime zones in legislation and a series of declarations.
173. When China was under the control of its Republican Government in the 1930s, it issued a
decree declaring a territorial sea of three nautical miles. 137 Prior to that declaration China
appears to have distinguished between the “inner ocean” and the “outer ocean” in its domestic
laws, and to have included references to a territorial sea in a number of international
agreements, but never to have fixed the extent or boundaries of that zone.138
174. On 4 September 1958, China issued a Declaration of the Government of the People’s Republic
of China on China’s Territorial Sea, which provided in relevant part as follows:
The Government of the People’s Republic of China declares:
1. The breadth of the territorial sea of the People’s Republic of China shall be twelve
nautical miles. This provision applies to all territories of the People’s Republic of China,
including the Chinese mainland and its coastal islands, as well as Taiwan and its
surrounding islands, the Penghu Islands, the Dongsha Islands, the Xisha Islands, the
Zhongsha Islands, the Nansha Islands and all other islands belonging to China which are
separated from the mainland and its coastal islands by the high seas.
2. China’s territorial sea along the mainland and its coastal islands takes as its
baseline the line composed of the straight lines connecting base-points on the mainland
coast and on the outermost of the coastal islands; the water area extending twelve nautical
miles outward from this baseline is China’s territorial sea. The water areas inside the
baseline, including Bohai Bay and the Chiungchow Straits, are Chinese inland waters. The
islands inside the baseline, including Tungyin Island, Kaoteng Island, the Matsu Islands,
the Paichuan Islands, Wuchiu Island, the Greater and Lesser Quemoy Islands, Tatan Island,
Erhtan Island and Tungting Island, are islands of the Chinese inland waters.
135

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 168.

136

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 398-399.

137

See K.H. Wang, “The ROC’s Maritime Claims and Practices with Special Reference to the South China
Sea,” Ocean Development & International Law, Vol. 41, No. 3, p. 237 at p. 238 (2010).

138

See generally H. Chiu, “China and the Question of Territorial Sea,” Maryland Journal of International
Law, Vol. 1(1), p. 29 at pp. 33-36 (1975).

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3. No foreign vessels for military use and no foreign aircraft may enter China’s
territorial sea and the air space above it without the permission of the Government of the
People’s Republic of China.
While navigating Chinese territorial sea, every foreign vessel must observe the
relevant laws and regulations laid down by the Government of the People’s Republic of
China.
4. The principles provided in paragraphs (2) and (3) likewise apply to Taiwan and its
surrounding Islands, the Penghu Islands, the Dongsha islands, the Xisha Islands, the
Zhongsha Islands, the Nansha Islands, and all other islands belonging to China. 139

175. On 25 February 1992, China enacted a Law on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone,
which provided in relevant part as follows:
Article 2
The territorial sea of the People’s Republic of China is the sea belt adjacent to the land
territory and the internal waters of the People’s Republic of China.
The land territory of the People’s Republic of China includes the mainland of the People’s
Republic of China and its coastal islands; Taiwan and all islands appertaining thereto
including the Diaoyu Islands; the Penghu Islands; the Dongsha Islands; the Xisha Islands;
the Zhongsha Islands and the Nansha Islands; as well as all the other islands belonging to
the People’s Republic of China.
The waters on the landward side of the baselines of the territorial sea of the People’s
Republic of China constitute the internal waters of the People’s Republic of China.
Article 3
The breadth of the territorial sea of the People’s Republic of China is twelve nautical miles,
measured from the baselines of the territorial sea.
The method of straight baselines composed of all the straight lines joining the adjacent base
points shall be employed in drawing the baselines of the territorial sea of the People’s
Republic of China.
The outer limit of the territorial sea of the People’s Republic of China is the line every
point of which is at a distance equal to twelve nautical miles from the nearest point of the
baseline of the territorial sea.
Article 4
The contiguous zone of the People’s Republic of China is the sea belt adjacent to and
beyond the territorial sea. The breadth of the contiguous zone is twelve nautical miles.
The outer limit of the contiguous zone of the People’s Republic of China is the line every
point of which is at a distance equal to twenty four nautical miles from the nearest point of
the baseline of the territorial sea.
Article 5
The sovereignty of the People’s Republic of China over its territorial sea extends to the air
space over the territorial sea as well as to the bed and subsoil of the territorial sea. 140

139

People’s Republic of China, “Declaration of the Government of the People’s Republic of China on
China’s Territorial Sea” (4 September 1958), in Collection of the Sea Laws and Regulations of the
People’s Republic of China (3rd ed., 2001).

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176. On 15 May 1996, China issued a Declaration of the Government of the People’s Republic of
China on the Baselines of the Territorial Sea, setting out certain coordinates for the baselines
from which its territorial sea would be measured.141
177. On 7 June 1996, in conjunction with its ratification of the Convention, China declared an
exclusive economic zone in the following terms:
1.

In accordance with the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of
the Sea, the People’s Republic of China shall enjoy sovereign rights and jurisdiction
over an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles and the continental shelf.

2.

The People’s Republic of China will effect, through consultations, the delimitation
of boundary of the maritime jurisdiction with the states with coasts opposite or
adjacent to China respectively on the basis of international law and in accordance
with the equitable principle.

3.

The People’s Republic of China reaffirms its sovereignty over all its archipelagoes
and islands as listed in article 2 of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the
Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone which was promulgated on 25 February 1992.

4.

The People’s Republic of China reaffirms that the provisions of the United Nations
Convention on the Law of the Sea concerning innocent passage through the
territorial sea shall not prejudice the right of a coastal state to request, in accordance
with its laws and regulations, a foreign state to obtain advance approval from or give
prior notification to the coastal state for the passage of its warships through the
territorial sea of the coastal state.142

178. On 26 June 1998, China enacted a Law on the Exclusive Economic Zone and the Continental
Shelf, which described the extent of China’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf as
follows:
Article 2
The exclusive economic zone of the People’s Republic of China covers the area beyond and
adjacent to the territorial sea of the People’s Republic of China, extending to 200 nautical
miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.
The continental shelf of the People’s Republic of China comprises the sea-bed and subsoil
of the submarine areas that extend beyond its territorial sea throughout the natural
prolongation of its land territory to the outer edge of the continental margin, or to a distance
of 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is
measured where the outer edge of the continental margin does not extend up to that
distance.
The People’s Republic of China shall determine the delimitation of its exclusive economic
zone and continental shelf in respect of the overlapping claims by agreement with the states
140

People’s Republic of China, Law on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone (25 February 1992),
available at <www.npc.gov.cn/englishnpc/Law/2007-12/12/content_1383846.htm> also available at
<www.un.org/depts/los/legislationandtreaties/pdffiles/chn_1992_law.pdf>.

141

See United Nations, Office of Legal Affairs, Division of Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, Law of
the Sea Bulletin No. 32, pp. 37-40 (1996).

142

United Nations, Secretary-General, Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary-General, Vol. III,
Part I, Chapters XXII to XXIX, and Part II, UN Doc. ST/LEG/SER.E/26 (2009).

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with opposite or adjacent coasts, in accordance with the equitable principle and on the basis
of international law.143

179. Article 14 of the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf Act provides further that
“[t]he provisions in this Law shall not affect the rights that the People’s Republic of China has
been enjoying ever since the days of the past.”144
C.

CHINA’S CLAIMS TO HISTORIC RIGHTS

180. As the Tribunal noted in its Award on Jurisdiction, the resolution of the Parties’ dispute in
relation to Submissions No. 1 and 2 is complicated by some ambiguity in China’s position. As
far as the Tribunal is aware, China has never expressly clarified the nature or scope of its
claimed historic rights. Nor has it ever clarified its understanding of the meaning of the ‘ninedash line’.145 Certain facts can, however, be established.
181. What has become known as the ‘nine-dash line’ first appeared on an official Chinese map in
1948. In that year, the Ministry of the Interior of the then Republican Government of China
published a “Map Showing the Location of the Various Islands in the South Sea” (the “1948
Map”). 146 A similar line had also appeared in privately produced cartography as early as
1933.147 The 1948 Map is reproduced as Figure 1 on page 75 below. In this original form, the
map featured 11 dashes. The two dashes in the Gulf of Tonkin were removed in 1953, 148
rendering it a ‘nine-dash line’, and the line has appeared consistently in that nine-dash form in

143

People’s Republic of China, Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf Act (26 June 1998),
available at <www.npc.gov.cn/englishnpc/Law/2007-12/11/content_1383573.htm> also available at
<www.un.org/depts/los/legislationandtreaties/pdffiles/chn_1998_eez_act.pdf>.

144

People’s Republic of China, Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf Act (26 June 1998),
available at <www.npc.gov.cn/englishnpc/Law/2007-12/11/content_1383573.htm>. The translation
maintained by the UN Department of Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea translates Article 14 as
follows: “The provisions of this Act shall not affect the historical rights of the People’s Republic of
China.” People’s Republic of China, Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf Act (26 June
1998), available at <www.un.org/depts/los/legislationandtreaties/pdffiles/chn_1998_eez_act.pdf>.

145

See Award on Jurisdiction, para. 160.

146

Boundary Department of the Ministry of Interior, Republic of China, “Map Showing the Location of the
Various Islands in the South Sea” (1948). Scholarly accounts indicated that the map was prepared in
1947 and published in 1948. See, e.g., K. Zou, “The Chinese Traditional Maritime Boundary Line in the
South China Sea and Its Legal Consequences for the Resolution of the Dispute over the Spratly Islands,”
International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law, Vol. 14, No. 27 (1999).

147

See K. Zou, “The Chinese Traditional Maritime Boundary Line in the South China Sea and Its Legal
Consequences for the Resolution of the Dispute over the Spratly Islands,” International Journal of
Marine and Coastal Law, Vol. 14, No. 27 (1999).

148

See Z. Gao and B.B. Jia, “The Nine-Dash Line in the South China Sea: History, Status, and Implications,”
American Journal of International Law, Vol. 107, No. 1 at p. 2013 (2013).

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official Chinese cartography since that date.149 The length and precise placement of individual
dashes, however, do not appear to be entirely consistent among different official depictions of
the line.
182. On 7 May 2009, China sent two Notes Verbales to the UN Secretary-General in response to
Malaysia and Viet Nam’s Joint Submission of the preceding day to the Commission on the
Limits of the Continental Shelf (the “CLCS”). In its notes, China stated as follows:
China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and the adjacent
waters, and enjoys sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the relevant waters as well as the
seabed and subsoil thereof (see attached map). The above position is consistently held by
the Chinese Government, and is widely known by the international community. 150

183. Appended to China’s notes was a map depicting the ‘nine-dash line’ (the “2009 Map”), which
is reproduced as Figure 2 on page 77 below.
184. China’s notes prompted immediate objections from Viet Nam and Malaysia, 151 as well as
subsequent objections from Indonesia 152 and the Philippines. 153

In addition to claiming

sovereignty over the “Kalayaan Island Group (KIG)”, the Philippines’ objection stated in
relevant part:
On the “Waters Adjacent” to the Islands and other Geological Features
SECOND, the Philippines, under the Roman notion of dominium maris and the
international law principle of “la terre domine la mer” which states that the land dominates
the sea, necessarily exercises sovereignty and jurisdiction over the waters around or
adjacent to each relevant geological feature in the KIG as provided for under the United
Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

149

The Tribunal notes that, in 2013, China issued a new official map of China with a vertical orientation and
a tenth dash to the east of Taiwan island. See China Cartographic Publishing House, “Map of the
People’s Republic of China” (2013). The Tribunal understand that this does not reflect a change in the
course of the ‘nine-dash line’, but rather the fact that prior projections using a horizontal orientation and
an inset map of the South China Sea had the effect of obscuring the area east of Taiwan island on the inset
map. See, e.g., Map of the People’s Republic of China, China Cartographic Publishing House (1992).

150

Note Verbale from the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations to the
Secretary-General of the United Nations, No. CML/17/2009 (7 May 2009) (Annex 191); Note Verbale
from the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations to the
Secretary-General of the United Nations, No. CML/18/2009 (7 May 2009) (Annex 192).

151

Note Verbale from the Permanent Mission of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam to the United Nations to
the Secretary-General of the United Nations, No. 86/HC-2009 (8 May 2009) (Annex 193); Note Verbale
from the Permanent Mission of Malaysia to the United Nations to the Secretary-General of the United
Nations, No. HA 24/09 (20 May 2009) (Annex 194).

152

Note Verbale from the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Indonesia to the United Nations to the
Secretary-General of the United Nations, No. 480/POL-703/VII/10 (8 July 2010) (Annex 197).

153

Note Verbale from the Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Philippines to the United Nations to the
Secretary-General of the United Nations, No. 000228 (5 April 2011) (Annex 200).

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At any rate, the extent of the waters that are “adjacent” to the relevant geological features
are definite and determinable under UNCLOS, specifically under Article 121 (Regime of
Islands) of the said Convention.
On the Other “Relevant Waters, Seabed and Subsoil” in the SCS
THIRD, since the adjacent waters of the relevant geological features are definite and
subject to legal and technical measurement, the claim as well by the People’s Republic of
China on the “relevant waters as well as the seabed and subsoil thereof” (as reflected in the
so-called 9-dash line map attached to Notes Verbales CML/17/2009 dated 7 May 2009 and
CML/18/2009 dated 7 May 2009) outside of the aforementioned relevant geological
features in the KIG and their “adjacent waters” would have no basis under international
law, specifically UNCLOS. With respect to these areas, sovereignty and jurisdiction or
sovereign rights, as the case may be, necessarily appertain or belong to the appropriate
coastal or archipelagic state – the Philippines – to which these bodies of waters as well as
seabed and subsoil are appurtenant, either in the nature of Territorial Sea, or 200 M
Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), or Continental Shelf (CS) in accordance with Articles 3,
4, 55, 57, and 76 of UNCLOS. 154

185. In response to the Philippines, China restated its position as follows:
China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and the adjacent
waters, and enjoys sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the relevant waters as well as the
seabed and subsoil thereof. China’s sovereignty and related rights and jurisdiction in the
South China Sea are supported by abundant historical and legal evidence. The contents of
the Note Verbale No 000228 of the Republic of Philippines are totally unacceptable to the
Chinese Government.
. . . Furthermore, under the legal principle of “la terre domine la mer”, coastal states’
Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Continental Shelf claims shall not infringe upon the
territorial sovereignty of other states.
Since 1930s, the Chinese Government has given publicity several times the geographical
scope of China’s Nansha Islands and the names of its components. China’s Nansha Islands
is therefore clearly defined. In addition, under the relevant provisions of the 1982 United
Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, as well as the Law of the People’s Republic of
China on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone (1992) and the Law on the Exclusive
Economic Zone and the Continental Shelf of the People’s Republic of China–(1998),
China’s Nansha Islands is fully entitled to Territorial Sea, Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)
and Continental Shelf.155

186. China has repeated variations on this formula in its diplomatic correspondence156 and in the
public statements of its official spokespersons,157 and has expressly linked the ‘nine-dash line’
to China’s claim to rights “formed over a long course of history”:

154

Note Verbale from the Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Philippines to the United Nations to the
Secretary-General of the United Nations, No. 000228 (5 April 2011) (Annex 200).

155

Note Verbale from the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations to the
Secretary-General of the United Nations, No. CML/8/2011 (14 April 2011) (Annex 201).

156

See, e.g., Note Verbale from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Manila to the Department
of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, No. (12) PG-251 (12 June 2012) (Annex 213);
Note Verbale from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Manila to the Department of
Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, No. (13) PG-173 (21 June 2013) (Annex 220); Note Verbale
from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Manila to the Department of Foreign Affairs,
Republic of the Philippines, No. 14(PG)-195 (30 June 2014) (Annex 675); Note Verbale from the

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China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters. And
it is an indisputable fact that the Xisha Islands are an integral part of China’s territory. As
early as 1948, the Chinese government published an official map which displayed “the
dotted line” in the South China Sea. China’s sovereignty over the South China Sea and its
claims to the relevant rights have been formed over a long course of history. They are
solidly grounded in international law and have been consistently upheld by successive
Chinese governments.158

187. China’s formal statement, released following the Tribunal’s issuance of the Award on
Jurisdiction, is representative of China’s consistent characterisation of its maritime entitlements
in the South China Sea:
China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands and the adjacent
waters. China’s sovereignty and relevant rights in the South China Sea, formed in the long
historical course, are upheld by successive Chinese governments, reaffirmed by China’s
domestic laws on many occasions, and protected under international law including the
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). . . .159

D.

THE PHILIPPINES’ POSITION

188. The Philippines submits that the Tribunal has jurisdiction to consider its Submissions
No. 1 and 2. On the merits, the Philippines argues both (a) that any rights that China may have
had in the maritime areas of the South China Sea beyond those provided for in the Convention
were extinguished by China’s accession to the Convention and (b) that China never had historic
rights in the waters of the South China Sea.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, to the Embassy of the Republic of the
Philippines in Beijing, No. (2015) Bu Bian Zi No. 5 (20 January 2015) (Annex 681).
157

See, e.g., Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong
Lei’s Regular Press Conference (9 December 2014) (Annex 620); Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s
Republic of China, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei’s Remarks on Vietnam’s Statement on the
Chinese Government’s Position Paper on Rejecting the Jurisdiction of the Arbitral Tribunal Established
at the Request of the Philippines for the South China Sea Arbitration (12 December 2014) (Annex 621);
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei’s
Regular Press Conference (11 March 2015) (Annex 623); Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic
of China, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s Remarks on the Philippines’ Playing up and
Airing of a Documentary on the South China Sea Issue (29 June 2015) (Annex 628).

158

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei’s
Remarks on Vietnam’s Statement on the Chinese Government’s Position Paper on Rejecting the
Jurisdiction of the Arbitral Tribunal Established at the Request of the Philippines for the South China Sea
Arbitration (12 December 2014) (Annex 621).

159

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of
the People’s Republic of China on the Award on Jurisdiction and Admissibility of the South China Sea
Arbitration by the Arbitral Tribunal Established at the Request of the Republic of the Philippines
(30 October 2015) (Annex 649).

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Figure 1: Map showing the “Location of the Various Islands in the South Sea,” 1948
Boundary Department of the Ministry of Interior, Republic of China

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Figure 2: Map attached to China’s 7 May 2009 Notes Verbales
Attachment to Note Verbale from the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United
Nations to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, No. CML/17/2009 (7 May 2009) (Annex 191); Note
Verbale from the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations to the SecretaryGeneral of the United Nations, No. CML/18/2009 (7 May 2009) (Annex 192).

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1.

Jurisdiction

189. With respect to jurisdiction, the Philippines argues that China’s statements since May 2009
make a consistent distinction between claims to “sovereignty” and claims to “sovereign rights
and jurisdiction,” and a further distinction between the “islands in the South China Sea and the
adjacent waters” and the “relevant waters”. According to the Philippines:
the most logical way to construe China’s language is as an assertion of sovereignty over the
islands of the South China Sea and their “adjacent waters”, or territorial seas; and a claim of
sovereign rights and jurisdiction—short of sovereignty—in the waters that lie between the
territorial seas claimed by China and the nine-dash line.160

190. In the Philippines’ view, the nature of China’s claim as one of sovereign rights and jurisdiction
is confirmed by China’s conduct in (a) seeking to ban fishing by other States within the
‘nine-dash line’; (b) interfering with the Philippines’ petroleum exploration activities; and (c)
offering concessions to oil blocks in areas within the ‘nine-dash line’ but beyond the possible
limits of China’s entitlements under the Convention. 161 At the same time, the Philippines
considers that China’s conduct makes clear that its claim is not to sovereignty over the entire
area within the ‘nine-dash line’, insofar as China has repeatedly asserted that it respects freedom
of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea. 162 The Philippines also notes that this
interpretation of China’s position has been adopted by numerous Chinese scholars, including
those with significant links to the government.163
191. According to the Philippines, the exception to jurisdiction in Article 298 of the Convention is
limited to disputes involving “historic bays or titles.” Moreover, the Philippines argues, “the
concept of ‘historic title’ as used in Article 298 has a specific and limited meaning: it pertains
only to near-shore areas of sea that are susceptible to a claim of sovereignty as such.” 164
Because the Philippines understands China’s claims to fall short of sovereignty over the
maritime areas of the South China Sea (beyond the “islands” and “adjacent waters”), the
Philippines considers that China’s claim cannot be one of historic title. In this respect, the
Philippines argues that there is a consistent distinction—including in the Chinese terminology—
between China’s use of the term “historical rights” in China’s Exclusive Economic Zone and
160

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 1), p. 19.

161

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 1), pp. 22-24. See also the Philippines’ Position in respect of its Submission
No. 8 at paragraphs 681 to 686 below.

162

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 1), pp. 24-27.

163

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 1), pp. 27-28; Memorial, para. 1.23; Z. Gao and B.B. Jia, “The Nine-Dash Line
in the South China Sea: History, Status, and Implications,” American Journal of International Law,
Vol. 107, No. 1, p. 98 pp. 123-124 (2013).

164

Memorial, para. 7.130.

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Continental Shelf Act 165 and the term ‘historic title’ in Article 298 and elsewhere in the
Convention. As such, the Philippines argues, “China’s claim of ‘historic rights’ within the area
encompassed by the nine-dash line is not covered by Article 298(1)(a)(i).”166 Even if China’s
claim were to a historic title, however, the Philippines submits that Article 298 would
nevertheless be inapplicable because the article applies only to disputes over the delimitation of
historic bays and titles. According to the Philippines, “when Article 298(1)(a)(i) refers to ‘those
involving historic bays or titles’ the ‘those’ being referred to are not disputes generally but
rather disputes concerning delimitation.”167
2.

China’s Claim to Historic Rights

192. With respect to the merits, the Philippines’ argument is two-fold. First, the Philippines submits
that international law did not historically permit the type of expansive claim advanced by
China’s ‘nine-dash line’ and that, even if China did possess historic rights in the South China
Sea, any such rights were extinguished by the adoption of the Convention.

Second, the

Philippines argues that, on the basis of the historical record of China’s activities in the South
China Sea, China cannot meet the criteria for having established historic rights within the ‘ninedash line’.
193. According to the Philippines, international law prior to the adoption of the Convention did not
accept “assertions of historic rights over such a vast area” as China now claims. 168 Prior to the
Convention, the Philippines argues, “[t]he sea was subject only to two principles: the principle
of the freedom of the seas, which prohibits appropriation by any state; and the principle of
control over a limited area by the immediately adjacent coastal state, which prohibits
appropriation by any other state.”169 In the Philippines’ view, “China’s claim . . . is inconsistent
with both principles.”170

165

166
167
168

People’s Republic of China, Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf Act (26 June 1998),
available at <www.npc.gov.cn/englishnpc/Law/2007-12/11/content_1383573.htm>. The translation
maintained by the UN Department of Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea translates Article 14 as
follows: “The provisions of this Act shall not affect the historical rights of the People’s Republic of
China.” People’s Republic of China, Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf Act (26 June
1998), available at <www.un.org/depts/los/legislationandtreaties/pdffiles/chn_1998_eez_act.pdf>.’
Memorial, para. 7.128.
Memorial, para. 7.139.
Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 1), p. 59.

169

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 1), p. 61.

170

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 1), p. 61.

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194. With the adoption of the Convention, the Philippines submits, the States Parties considered
“with careful specificity the nature of prior uses [of the sea] that are protected, the nature of the
protections, and the areas in which such protections apply.”171 According to the Philippines,
where the Convention makes no express exception for prior uses or rights “those historic rights
would not have survived as derogations from the sovereignty, sovereign rights and high seas
freedoms of other states.”172 Notably, while some protections of prior uses were accepted, the
Philippines argues that “distant water fishing states failed to obtain recognition in the exclusive
economic zone of historic fishing rights derived from prior high seas fishing.” 173 In the course
of these debates, the Philippines submits:
China was a vocal supporter of the demands of developing coastal states for exclusive
jurisdiction over the natural resources in the EEZs and continental shelves off their
respective coasts, and China was a consistent critic of attempts to limit the content of that
jurisdiction. China identified itself as one of those developing coastal states. It made no
attempt whatsoever to secure an exception protecting historic claims of maritime rights of
the kind that are now at issue. 174

Accordingly, the Philippines concludes, “[t]he Convention leaves no room for assertions of
rights to control activities beyond [the limits fixed in the Convention] in derogation of the
sovereign rights of other coastal states or the rights and freedoms of all states.”175
195. The Philippines also challenges the existence of Chinese historic rights in the maritime areas of
the South China Sea. According to the Philippines, China “first claimed the existence of such
rights on 7th May 2009.”176 The Philippines submits that Chinese historic maps dating back to
1136, including those purporting to depict the entirety of the Empire of China, consistently
show China’s territory extending no further south than Hainan.177 The Philippines also notes
that, for periods of the 14th century and for much of the 15th and 16th centuries, the Imperial
Chinese Government actively prohibited maritime trade by Chinese subjects. 178 Indeed, the
Philippines notes:
During the mid-15th century, for instance, the Ming authorities suppressed maritime
activities, and in 1500 made it a capital offence to build two-masted ships. In 1525, all such

171

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 1), p. 66.

172

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 1), p. 71.

173

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 1), p. 67.

174

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 1), p. 72 (internal citations omitted).

175

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 1), p. 74.

176

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 1), p. 77.

177

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 1), pp. 79-80.

178

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 1), p. 81; Supplemental Written Submission, paras. A13.3-A13.11.

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remaining ships were ordered destroyed. In 1551, China defined venturing out to sea in a
multi-masted ship to be an act of treason.179

196. This ambivalent attitude to seafaring explains, for the Philippines, China’s muted reaction to the
activities of European States in the South China Sea and its lack of protest to European
navigation and the establishment of colonies in Southeast Asia, beginning in the 16th century.
197. Reviewing the published archival records of the Taiwan Authority of China, 180 which the
Philippines considers to comprise documents selected to support China’s claims, the Philippines
emphasises the absence of “any documents evidencing any official Chinese activities in regard
to any South China Sea feature prior to the beginning of the 20th century.”181 The Philippines
also emphasises a Note Verbale from the Legation of the Chinese Republic in France to the
French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1932, stating that the Paracel Islands “form the
southernmost part of Chinese territory.”182 According to the Philippines, when China “sought to
assert its claim to the South China Sea islands,”183 following the defeat of Japanese forces in the
Second World War, the plans included an effort to develop Chinese names for the features, the
majority of which were then identified only by Chinese transliterations of their English
names.184 According to the Philippines “Lord Auckland Shoal was thus ‘Ao ke lan sha’, and
Mischief Reef ‘Mi-qi fu’. Gaven Reef was ‘Ge wen’, and Amy Douglas Reef ‘A mi de ge la’.”185
Based on this record, the Philippines questions how China could have historic rights in an area
“over which it had so little involvement or connection that most of the features had no Chinese
names.”186

179

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 1), p. 81.

180

Ministry of Foreign Affairs Research & Planning Committee, Republic of China (ed.), Archival
Compilation on South China Sea Islands by Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1995); Ministry of the Interior,
Republic of China, Compilation of Historical Archives on the Southern Territories of the Republic of
China (2015).

181

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 1), p. 89.

182

Note Verbale from the Legation of the Republic of China in Paris to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to
France (29 September 1932), reprinted in Monique Chemillier-Gendreau, Sovereignty over the Paracel
and Spratly Islands (2000).

183

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 1), p. 94.

184

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 1), pp. 94-96; see also Letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of
China, to the Ministry of the Interior, Republic of China (1 October 1946), reprinted in Republic of China
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Research & Planning Committee, ed., Archival Compilation on South China
Sea Islands by Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Vol. 2, Doc. No. III(1):008 (1995); Letter from the Ministry of
the Interior, Republic of China, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of China (9 October 1946),
reprinted in Republic of China Ministry of Foreign Affairs Research & Planning Committee, ed.,
Archival Compilation on South China Sea Islands by Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Vol. 2,
Doc. No. III(1):009 (1995).

185

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 1), p. 96.

186

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 1), p. 96.

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198. According to the Philippines, the absence of any Chinese historic rights in the South China Sea
is also apparent in various historical documents obtained by the Tribunal from the Bibliothèque
Nationale de France and the Archives Nationales d’Outre-Mer and provided to the Parties for
comment. In the Philippines’ view, these documents confirm that “prior to the Second World
War France did not consider China to have made a claim in regard to any of the Spratlys, or to
the waters of the South China Sea far removed from China’s mainland coast.”187 Additionally,
“the post-war documents—including France’s internal records—make clear that France retained
its claim to those features,” a position the Philippines considers consistent with its view that the
United Kingdom and United States “wished to protect France’s sovereignty claim” in
connection with the Cairo Declaration and Potsdam Proclamation.188
199. In any event, the Philippines argues that any Chinese historical claims to the features of the
South China Sea did not, until 2009, “include a claim to the waters beyond their territorial
seas.”189 The Philippines notes China’s support of the three-mile territorial sea limit during the
Second UN Conference on the Law of the Sea in 1960, 190 as well as the fact that China’s
Declaration of the Government of the People’s Republic of China on China’s Territorial Sea
refers to the Spratly Islands as being “separated from the mainland and its coastal islands by the
high seas,” and not by any maritime area in which China had particular entitlements.191 The
Philippines argues that this has also been the understanding, until recently, of Chinese scholars
working from the archives of the People’s Republic of China.192 Finally, when China did make
clear in May 2009 that it claims historic rights in the maritime areas within the ‘nine-dash line’,
the Philippines submits that this was promptly objected to by the other littoral States of the
South China Sea.193 As such, the Philippines submits that China has no historic rights within
the ‘nine-dash line’.

187

Responses of the Philippines to the Tribunal’s 26 May 2016 Request for Comments on Materials from the
French Archives, para. 30 (3 June 2016) (hereinafter “Written Responses of the Philippines on French
Archive Materials (3 June 2016)”).

188

Written Responses of the Philippines on French Archive Materials, para. 31 (3 June 2016).

189

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 2.

190

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 5.

191

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 7.

192

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp. 8-9; Z. Gao, “The South China Sea: From Conflict to Cooperation?”
Ocean Development and International Law, Vol. 25, No. 3, p. 346 (1994).

193

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 11.

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E.

CHINA’S POSITION

200. China’s various statements indicating that it claims historic rights in the South China Sea within
the area of the ‘nine-dash line’ are set out above at paragraphs 180 to 187. On 12 May 2016,
when the Director-General of the Department of Treaty and Law at the Chinese Ministry of
Foreign Affairs was asked about the ‘nine-dash line’ in the context of the present arbitration, he
responded with the following statement:
The “nine-dash line” . . . is called by China the dotted line. I want to stress that China’s
sovereignty and relevant rights in the South China Sea were formed throughout the long
course of history and have been maintained by the Chinese Government consistently.
Early in 1948, the dotted line was mapped on China’s official map. It was a confirmation
of China’s rights in the South China Sea formed throughout the history, instead of creation
of new claims. For a long time, no State questioned the legitimacy of the dotted line and it
also appeared on the official maps of many States.
In recent years, some States started to attack on China’s dotted line. The real motive is to
intentionally confuse territorial disputes with disputes over maritime delimitation, deny
China’s sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands and their adjacent waters, and cover
up their illegal invasion and occupation of part of the maritime features of China’s Nansha
Islands.
In the Arbitration, the Philippines requested the Arbitral Tribunal to decide whether
maritime entitlements claimed by China in the South China Sea exceeded the limits of the
UNCLOS . . . . [T]o answer this question, we need to decide China’s territorial sovereignty
first. In accordance with international law, territorial sovereignty is the basis of maritime
rights. Without first determining China’s territorial sovereignty over the maritime
f[ea]tures in the South China Sea, it would not be possible to determine maritime
entitlements China may claim in it pursuant to the UNCLOS, let alone determine whether
China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea have exceeded the extent allowed under
the UNCLOS.
On the other hand, we have to note that the dotted line came into existence much earlier
than the UNCLOS, which does not cover all aspects of the law of the sea. No matter from
which lens we look at this, the Tribunal does not have jurisdiction over China’s dotted line.
As to negotiations, China has reiterated its hope that the relevant parties should resolve the
disputes through consultation and negotiation based on historical facts and international
law. The door of negotiation remains open. 194

201. China has not explained the nature of these claims in the course of these proceedings. The
Tribunal will address the nature of China’s claims to historic rights in the context of considering
its jurisdiction with respect to the Philippines’ Submissions No. 1 and 2.

194

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Briefing by Xu Hong, Director-General of the
Department of Treaty and Law on the South China Sea Arbitration Initiated by the Philippines (12 May
2016), available at <www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/wjdt_665385/zyjh_665391/t1364804.shtml>.

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F.

THE TRIBUNAL’S CONSIDERATIONS
1.

The Tribunal’s Jurisdiction

202. Article 298 of the Convention provides in relevant part as follows:
Article 298
Optional exceptions to applicability of section 2
1.

When signing, ratifying or acceding to this Convention or at any time thereafter, a
State may, without prejudice to the obligations arising under section 1, declare in
writing that it does not accept any one or more of the procedures provided for in
section 2 with respect to one or more of the following categories of disputes:
(a)

(i)

disputes concerning the interpretation or application of articles 15,
74 and 83 relating to sea boundary delimitations, or those involving
historic bays or titles . . . .

203. On 25 August 2006, China issued a declaration pursuant to Article 298, activating all of the
optional exceptions to jurisdiction in the following terms: “[t]he Government of the People’s
Republic of China does not accept any of the procedures provided for in Section 2 of Part XV of
the Convention with respect to all the categories of disputes referred to in paragraph 1 (a), (b)
and (c) of Article 298 of the Convention.”195
204. The Tribunal has already addressed the first exception to jurisdiction in Article 298(1)(a)(i) of
the Convention, which applies to disputes concerning the interpretation or application of
articles 15, 74, and 83 of the Convention relating to sea boundary delimitations, and found it
inapplicable in the present case.196 In brief, a dispute over the source and existence of maritime
entitlements does not “concern” sea boundary delimitation merely because the existence of
overlapping entitlements is a necessary condition for delimitation. While all sea boundary
delimitations will concern entitlements, the converse is not the case:

all disputes over

entitlements do not concern delimitation. Where, as here, a party denies the existence of an
entitlement, a possible outcome may well be the absence of any overlap and any possibility of
delimitation. The exception in Article 298(1)(a)(i) of the Convention does not reach so far as to
capture a dispute over the existence of entitlements that may—or may not—ultimately require
delimitation.
205. What remains for the Tribunal in the present decision is the second exception to jurisdiction in
Article 298(1)(a)(i) of the Convention, which applies to disputes involving historic bays or

195
196

See People’s Republic of China, Declaration under Article 298 (25 August 2006), 2834 UNTS 327.
Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 155-157.

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titles. The concept of a historic bay is well understood in international law197 and, as a matter of
plain geography, the South China Sea is not a bay.198 The question is therefore whether China
potentially claims historic title in the South China Sea and, if so, the implications for the
Tribunal’s jurisdiction.
206. Whether the Parties’ dispute involves historic titles, therefore, depends first upon the nature of
China’s claims in the South China Sea and, second, on the scope of the exception. It is for
China to determine the scope of its maritime claims. As far as the Tribunal is aware, however,
the most insightful formulation by China of its claims in the South China Sea, beyond its claim
to sovereignty over islands and their adjacent waters, is as a claim to “relevant rights in the
South China Sea, formed in the long historical course.”199 In the absence of a more specific
indication from China itself, it necessarily falls to the Tribunal to ascertain, on the basis of
conduct, whether China’s claim amounts to ‘historic title’.
(a)

The Nature of China’s Claimed Rights in the South China Sea

207. Since 1956, China has proclaimed a series of maritime zones—a territorial sea, a contiguous
zone, a continental shelf, and an exclusive economic zone—that are, at least in general terms, in
line with those anticipated by the Convention. Nevertheless, China’s repeated invocation of
rights “formed in the long historical course” and its linkage of this concept with the ‘nine-dash
line’ indicates that China understands its rights to extend, in some form, beyond the maritime
zones expressly described in the Convention. The Tribunal therefore turns to the rights that
China has actually invoked in the South China Sea. Much of the area encompassed by the
‘nine-dash line’, however, would also fall within a claim to an exclusive economic zone or
continental shelf drawn from the various features of the Spratly Islands. Whether or not the
Tribunal would agree that the Convention or the features support such entitlements, a matter
discussed in Chapter VI below, the mere fact that China asserts rights in the South China Sea
does not indicate that China considers those rights to derive from the ‘nine-dash line’. Where,
however, China has asserted rights in areas beyond the maximum entitlements that could be
claimed under the Convention, the Tribunal considers that such assertions indicate a claim to
197

See generally United Nations, Historic Bays: Memorandum by the Secretariat of the United Nations,
UN Doc. A/CONF.13/1 (30 September 1957); United Nations, Juridical Regime of Historic Waters,
Including Historic Bays, U.N. Doc A/CN.4/143 (9 March 1962).

198

See the definition of a bay in Article 10 of the Convention.

199

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of
the People’s Republic of China on the Award on Jurisdiction and Admissibility of the South China Sea
Arbitration by the Arbitral Tribunal Established at the Request of the Republic of the Philippines
(30 October 2015) (Annex 649).

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rights arising independently of the Convention. There are at least three instances when China
appears to have asserted such rights.
208. In June 2012, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (“CNOOC”) issued a notice of open
blocks for petroleum exploration adjacent to the western edge of the ‘nine-dash line’.200 The
western portions of at least one of these blocks (Block BS16) lie beyond 200 nautical miles
from any feature in the South China Sea claimed by China,201 and beyond any possible extended
continental shelf.202 The map appended to the CNOOC tender is reproduced as Figure 3 on
page 89. The Tribunal acknowledges that the affected area of the ‘nine-dash line’ is not of
direct relevance to the Philippines’ own maritime claims, but nevertheless notes that China’s
2012 notice assists in understanding the nature of China’s claims within the ‘nine-dash line’.
Thus, with respect to some areas of the blocks, even assuming the maximum possible claim to
entitlements that China could make under the Convention, China’s authority to issue the
petroleum blocks in question cannot be based solely upon entitlements derived from the
Convention.
209. China has also objected to the Philippines’ award of petroleum blocks within the ‘nine-dash
line’, an issue discussed in greater detail in connection with the Philippines’ Submission No. 8.
The area of the Philippines’ petroleum blocks could be almost covered by entitlements claimed
by China under the Convention, if China were understood to claim an exclusive economic zone
from all high-tide features in the Spratly Islands, no matter how small, and from Scarborough
Shoal. The fact of China’s objection is thus not necessarily indicative of the source of China’s
claimed rights. When, however, China objected to the Philippines’ Geophysical Survey and
Exploration Contract 101 petroleum block (“GSEC101”) (depicted in Map 4 on page 269), the
Philippines recorded China’s Chargé d’Affaires in Manila as stating that “[s]ince ancient times,
China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha islands and its adjacent waters. The GSEC

200

China National Offshore Oil Corporation, “Notification of Part of Open Blocks in Waters under
Jurisdiction of the People’s Republic of China Available for Foreign Cooperation in the Year of 2012”
(23 June 2012) (Annex 121).

201

This remains the case even if a full exclusive economic zone were ascribed to the single small rock above
water at high tide at Fiery Cross Reef (discussed below at paragraphs 340 to 343 and 563 to 565).

202

The Tribunal takes note of the Expert Report submitted by Dr. Lindsay Parson and his conclusion that,
while China could potentially claim certain areas of continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles, as a
matter of geomorphology, the Spratly Islands would be unlikely to support a claim beyond 200 nautical
miles and that the Paracel Islands would be unlikely to significantly extend China’s maritime areas
beyond a continental shelf that could be claimed from Hainan. Dr. Lindsay Parson, The Potential for
China to Develop a Viable Submission for Continental Shelf Area beyond 200 Nautical Miles in the South
China Sea, pp. 5-6, 9, 37-38 (March 2015) (Annex 514).

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101 (SC 72) area is situated in the adjacent waters of the Nansha Islands (Spratlys).” 203
Similarly, when China objected to the Philippines’ Service Contract 58 (“SC58”) block, the
Philippines recorded China’s Deputy Chief of Mission in Manila as stating that “Service
Contract 54, 14, 58, 63, and other nearby service contracts are located ‘deep within China’s
9-dash line.’”204 Finally, China objected to the Philippines’ Area 3 and Area 4 petroleum blocks
by Note Verbale:
On 30 June 20l1 at the launching of Fourth Philippine Energy Contracting Round (PECR4),
the Department of Energy of the Philippines offered 15 petroleum blocks to local and
international companies for exploration and development. Among the aforesaid blocks,
AREA 3 and AREA 4 are situated in the waters of which China has historic titles including
sovereign rights and jurisdiction. 205

Despite the possibility that China’s claims were based on a theory of entitlement to continental
shelf rights pursuant to the Convention, the framing of China’s objections strongly indicates that
China considers its rights with respect to petroleum resources to stem from historic rights.
210. A similar conclusion is suggested by China’s declaration, in May 2012, of a “Summer Ban on
Marine Fishing in the South China Sea Maritime Space,” in order to “protect and rationally
utilise South China Sea fishery resources.”206 The announcement described the ban and the area
in which it would apply as follows:
All productive activity types, except for using single-layer gill net and line-fishing
equipment, shall be prohibited from 16 May 12:00 p.m. until 1 August 12:00 p.m. in the
South China Sea areas from 12º north latitude up to the “Common Boundary Line of
Fujian-Guangdong Sea Areas” (including the Gulf of Tonkin) under the jurisdiction of the
People’s Republic of China. 207

211. This description is not entirely clear with respect to the source of China’s claimed right to
restrict fishing in the South China Sea areas. That is because first, it applies ultimately only to
areas “under the jurisdiction of the People’s Republic of China,” although a description of the

203

Memorandum from the Acting Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Affairs, Department of Foreign
Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs (10 March 2011) (Annex 70).

204

Memorandum from the Undersecretary for Special and Ocean Concerns, Department of Foreign Affairs,
Republic of the Philippines, to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Philippines (30 July
2010) (Annex 63).

205

Note Verbale from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Manila to the Department of
Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, No. (11) PG-202 (6 July 2011) (Annex 202).

206

Fishery Bureau of Nanhai District, Ministry of Agriculture, People’s Republic of China, Announcement
on the 2012 Summer Ban on Marine Fishing in the South China Sea Maritime Space (10 May 2012)
(Annex 118).

207

Fishery Bureau of Nanhai District, Ministry of Agriculture, People’s Republic of China, Announcement
on the 2012 Summer Ban on Marine Fishing in the South China Sea Maritime Space (10 May 2012)
(Annex 118).

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Figure 3: Map enclosed with China National Offshore Oil Corporation Press Release
Notification of Part of Open Blocks in Waters under Jurisdiction of the People’s Republic of China
Available for Foreign Cooperation in the Year of 2012 (23 June 2012) (Annex 121)

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ban by Xinhua, the official press agency of China, noted that it applied “in most parts of the
South China Sea . . . including Huangyan Island [Scarborough Shoal].”208 Second, the area
north of 12° north latitude could be almost entirely covered by entitlements claimed from the
Convention, if China were understood to claim an exclusive economic zone from the very small
rocks of Scarborough Shoal.209 However, taken together with the conclusion above about the
grant of petroleum blocks and China’s frequent references to historic rights without further
specification, the Tribunal concludes that China does claim rights to petroleum resources and
fisheries within the ‘nine-dash line’ on the basis of historic rights existing independently of the
Convention.
212. At the same time, China has unequivocally stated that it respects freedom of navigation and
overflight in the South China Sea. On 27 October 2015, China’s Vice Foreign Minister stated
that “[t]he Chinese side respects and safeguards the freedom of navigation and over-flight in the
South China Sea to which all countries are entitled under international law . . . . There has been
and will be no obstruction to navigation and over-flight freedom in the South China Sea.”210
The same commitment has been repeated in numerous other statements by Chinese officials and
spokespersons.
213. Within the territorial sea, the Convention does not provide for freedom of overflight or for
freedom of navigation, beyond a right of innocent passage. 211 Accordingly, the Tribunal
considers China’s commitment to respect both freedom of navigation and overflight to establish
that China does not consider the sea areas within the ‘nine-dash line’ to be equivalent to its
territorial sea or internal waters. The Tribunal also notes that China declared baselines for the
territorial sea surrounding Hainan and the Paracel Islands (see paragraph 176 above). In the
view of the Tribunal, China would presumably not have done so if the waters both within and
beyond 12 nautical miles of those islands already formed part of China’s territorial sea (or
internal waters) by virtue of a claim to historic rights through the ‘nine-dash line’.
214. In sum, on the basis of China’s conduct, the Tribunal understands that China claims rights to the
living and non-living resources within the ‘nine-dash line’, but (apart from the territorial sea

208

“Fishing Ban Starts in South China Sea,” Xinhua (17 May 2012) (Annex 318).

209

The Tribunal will discuss the entitlements of Scarborough Shoal in detail subsequently
(see paragraphs 333 to 334 and 554 to 556 below).

210

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui Makes Stern
Representations to US over US Naval Vessel’s Entry into Waters near Relevant Islands and Reefs of
China’s Nansha Islands (27 October 2015) (Annex 645).

211

Convention, art. 17.

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generated by any islands) does not consider that those waters form part of its territorial sea or
internal waters. The Tribunal will now consider whether a dispute concerning such a claim falls
within the exception to compulsory jurisdiction for “historic bays or titles” in
Article 298(1)(a)(i) of the Convention.
(b)

The Scope of the Exception in Article 298(1)(a)(i) of the Convention

215. In assessing the scope of the exception in Article 298(1)(a)(i), the Tribunal notes, as an initial
matter, that it disagrees with the Philippines that the exception can be dispensed with on the
grounds that, properly interpreted, the exception applies only to “delimitations . . . involving
historic bays or titles.”212 The Tribunal considers this interpretation to be contrary to the natural
reading of even the English text, but agrees that at least the English text of this Article is
potentially ambiguous. The Convention is a multi-lingual instrument, however, and pursuant to
Article 320 of the Convention, “the Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish texts
are equally authentic.” No comparable ambiguity is to be found in the Chinese, French,
Russian, or Spanish versions of the Convention, each of which is structured so as to make clear
that the exception extends to “disputes . . . involving historic bays or titles,” whether or not such
disputes involve delimitation.
216. Article 33 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (the “Vienna Convention on the
Law of Treaties” or the “Vienna Convention”) addresses the interpretation of a treaty
authenticated in multiple languages and provides that, unless otherwise indicated, “the text is
equally authoritative in each language.”213 Article 33 of the Vienna Convention also provides
that “when a comparison of the authentic texts discloses a difference of meaning which the
application of articles 31 and 32 does not remove, the meaning which best reconciles the texts,
having regard to the object and purpose of the treaty, shall be adopted.”214 In the present case,
and noting that the Convention is silent on the resolution of differences between its different
versions, the Tribunal considers that the broader exception in the non-English texts, for
“disputes . . . involving historic bays or titles,” best reconciles the different versions.
217. Article 298(1)(a)(i) of the Convention provides for an exception for disputes involving ‘historic
titles’. While the ordinary meaning of this term already implies a notion of property, the
212

Hearing Tr. (Day 1), pp. 51-52.

213

Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, art. 33(1), 22 May 1969, 1155 UNTS 331 (hereinafter
“Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties”). Both the Philippines and China are parties to the Vienna
Convention, the Philippines having ratified on 15 November 1972 and China having acceded on
3 September 1997.

214

Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, art. 33(4).

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Tribunal considers that the meaning of the Convention’s reference to ‘historic titles’ should be
understood in the particular context of the evolution of the international law of the sea.
218. The genesis of the present Convention dates back at least to the League of Nations Codification
Conference which met in The Hague in March and April 1930. The regime of the territorial sea
was among the topics considered, and the Preparatory Committee of the Conference
recommended that the Conference seek to identify the bays claimed as “historic bays”.215 No
convention, however, resulted from the Conference.
219. Efforts at codification next moved to the International Law Commission, which submitted a set
of draft articles to the General Assembly in 1956. Article 7 of these draft articles addressed the
subject of bays and Article 7(4) provided that “[t]he foregoing provisions shall not apply to
so-called ‘historic’ bays.”216 The commentaries to the draft articles also noted that the breadth
of the territorial sea, which was not then agreed upon, could be determined up to 12 nautical
miles on the basis of “historic rights”.217
220. Prior to the First UN Conference on the Law of the Sea, the UN Secretariat prepared an
influential memorandum on historic bays which noted as follows:
the theory of historic bays is of general scope. Historic rights are claimed not only in
respect of bays, but also in respect of maritime areas which do not constitute bays, such as
the waters of archipelagos and the water area lying between an archipelago and the
neighbouring mainland; historic rights are also claimed in respect of straits, estuaries and
other similar bodies of water. There is a growing tendency to describe these areas as
“historic waters”, not as “historic bays”. 218

The report also recalled the observation of the International Court of Justice in
Anglo-Norwegian Fisheries that “[b]y ‘historic waters’ are usually meant waters which are
treated as internal waters but which would not have that character were it not for the existence

215

See United Nations, Historic Bays: Memorandum by the Secretariat of the United Nations,
UN Doc. A/CONF.13/1 at paras. 207-208 (30 September 1957).

216

Report of the International Law Commission covering the Work of its Eighth Session, 23 April–4 July
1956, UN Doc. A/3159, Official Records of the General Assembly, Eleventh Session, Supplement No. 9,
Yearbook of the International Law Commission: 1956, Vol. II, p. 253 at p. 257.

217

Report of the International Law Commission covering the Work of its Eighth Session, 23 April–4 July
1956, UN Doc. A/3159, Official Records of the General Assembly, Eleventh Session, Supplement No. 9,
Yearbook of the International Law Commission: 1956, Vol. II, p. 253 at p. 266.

218

United Nations, Historic Bays: Memorandum by the Secretariat of the United Nations,
UN Doc. A/CONF.13/1, para. 8 (30 September 1957).

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of an historic title”219 and discussed the formation of rights to a historic bay in terms of the
formation of historic title.220
221. The first reference to historic title in the treaties preceding the present Convention appears in the
1958 Geneva Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, Article 12 of which
addresses the delimitation of territorial sea, but provides that “[t]he provisions of this
paragraph shall not apply, however, where it is necessary by reason of historic title or other
special circumstances to delimit the territorial seas of the two States in a way which is at
variance with this provision.”221 This provision was introduced by Norway, reflecting its recent
experience before the International Court of Justice. 222 As used in Article 12 of the 1958
Convention, ‘historic title’ was clearly intended to have the same meaning as its usage in
Anglo-Norwegian Fisheries, namely as an area of sea claimed exceptionally as internal waters
(or, possibly, as territorial sea). At the close of the First Conference, a resolution was adopted
on the initiative of India and Panama, requesting the General Assembly to “make appropriate
arrangements for the study of the juridical regime of historic waters including historic bays, and
for the result of these studies to be sent to all Member States of the United Nations.”223 The
General Assembly referred the matter to the International Law Commission, which did not,
however, take it up.
222. In 1962, following the Second UN Conference on the Law of the Sea, the UN Secretariat
produced a memorandum on historic waters, which considered the term as equivalent to historic
title. As with historic bays, the UN Secretariat noted that such historic waters “would be
internal waters or territorial sea according to whether the sovereignty exercised over them in the
course of the development of the historic title was sovereignty as over internal waters or

219

Anglo-Norwegian Fisheries (United Kingdom v. Norway), Judgment, ICJ Reports 1951, p. 116 at p. 130.

220

United Nations, Historic Bays: Memorandum by the Secretariat of the United Nations,
UN Doc. A/CONF.13/1, paras. 137-198 (30 September 1957).

221

Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, 29 April 1958, 516 UNTS 205 (hereinafter
“1958 Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone”).

222

“Summary Records of the First Committee, 61 st to 66th Meetings,” UN Doc. A/CONF.13/C.1/SR.61-66 at
pp. 190, 192, Official Records of the United Nations Conference on the Law of The Sea, Volume III (First
Committee (Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone)) (1958); “Certain Legal Aspects Concerning the
Delimitation of the Territorial Waters of Archipelagos,” UN Doc. A/CONF.13/18, Official Records of the
United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, Volume I (Preparatory Documents), p. 289 at
pp. 300-301 (1958).

223

India and Panama, “Revised Draft Resolution,” UN Doc. A/CONF.13/C.l/L.158/Rev.l (17 April 1958),
Official Records of the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, Volume III (First Committee);
“Summary Records of the 20th Plenary Meeting,” UN Doc. A/CONF.13/38 at p. 68 (27 April 1958),
Official Records of the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, Volume II (Plenary Meetings).

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sovereignty as over the territorial sea.”224 The memorandum analyses the formation of historic
title as a process of acquiring a historic right225—a term which is used generally—and concludes
that:
In determining whether or not a title to “historic waters” exists, there are three factors
which have to be taken into consideration, namely,
(i)

The authority exercised over the area by the State claiming it as “historic waters”;

(ii)

The continuity of such exercise of authority;

(iii)

The attitude of foreign States.226

223. During the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (the “Third UN
Conference”), Article 12 of the 1958 Convention was adopted as Article 15 of the 1982
Convention, without significant discussion. The principal proponent of the concept of historic
title in the course of the Conference was, in fact, the Philippines, which employed the term with
respect to a claim (which it has since abandoned) to a territorial sea within the lines fixed by the
Treaty of Paris of 1898 between Spain and the United States that governed the cession of the
Philippines.227
224. In recent years, the International Court of Justice has twice had the occasion to distinguish
between historic fishing rights and historic title that would bear on the entitlement to maritime
zones. In Qatar v. Bahrain, the Court noted that historic pearl fishing “seems in any event
never to have led to the recognition of an exclusive quasi-territorial right to the fishing grounds
themselves or to the superjacent waters.” 228 Similarly, in Continental Shelf (Tunisia/Libyan
Arab Jamahiriya), the Court distinguished the legal basis for historic Tunisian fishing rights—
on which it ultimately refrained from ruling—from the regime of the continental shelf.229

224

United Nations, Juridical Regime of Historic Waters, Including Historic Bays, UN Doc. A/CN.4/143,
para. 167 (9 March 1962).

225

United Nations, Juridical Regime of Historic Waters, Including Historic Bays, UN Doc. A/CN.4/143,
paras. 80-148 (9 March 1962).

226

United Nations, Juridical Regime of Historic Waters, Including Historic Bays, UN Doc. A/CN.4/143,
para. 185 (9 March 1962).

227

See, e.g., “Summary Records of Meetings of the Second Committee, 5th Meeting,”
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.5 at para. 30 (16 July 1974), Official Records of the Third United Nations
Conference on the Law of the Sea, Volume II (Summary Records of Meetings of the First, Second and Third
Committees, Second Session).

228

Maritime Delimitation and Territorial Questions between Qatar and Bahrain, Merits, Judgment,
ICJ Reports 2001, p. 40 at pp. 112-113, para. 236.

229

Continental Shelf (Tunisia/Libyan Arab Jamahiriya), Judgment, ICJ Reports 1982, p. 18 at pp. 73-74,
para. 100.

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225. The purpose of this extended recitation is to emphasise that there exists, within the context of
the law of the sea, a cognizable usage among the various terms for rights deriving from
historical processes. The term ‘historic rights’ is general in nature and can describe any rights
that a State may possess that would not normally arise under the general rules of international
law, absent particular historical circumstances. Historic rights may include sovereignty, but
may equally include more limited rights, such as fishing rights or rights of access, that fall well
short of a claim of sovereignty. ‘Historic title’, in contrast, is used specifically to refer to
historic sovereignty to land or maritime areas. ‘Historic waters’ is simply a term for historic
title over maritime areas, typically exercised either as a claim to internal waters or as a claim to
the territorial sea, although “general international law . . . does not provide for a single ‘régime’
for ‘historic waters’ or ‘historic bays’, but only for a particular régime for each of the concrete,
recognised cases of ‘historic waters’ or ‘historic bays’.”230 Finally, a ‘historic bay’ is simply a
bay in which a State claims historic waters.
226. The Tribunal is of the view that this usage was understood by the drafters of the Convention and
that the reference to ‘historic titles’ in Article 298(1)(a)(i) of the Convention is accordingly a
reference to claims of sovereignty over maritime areas derived from historical circumstances.
This accords with the only other direct usage of the term, in Article 15 of the Convention, where
historical sovereignty would understandably bear on the delimitation of the territorial sea.
Other “historic rights”, in contrast, are nowhere mentioned in the Convention, and the Tribunal
sees nothing to suggest that Article 298(1)(a)(i) was intended to also exclude jurisdiction over a
broad and unspecified category of possible claims to historic rights falling short of sovereignty.
227. The terminological distinction outlined above exists also in Chinese, and the Philippines has
pressed on the Tribunal the fact that in its public statements, China has invoked its “historic
rights” (li shi xing quan li, or 历史性权利) in the South China Sea, rather than historic title
(li shi xing suo you quan, or 历史性所有权) as that term appears in the official Chinese text of
the Convention.231 For its part, the Tribunal notes that China’s usage has not been entirely
consistent, and that at least the English version of China’s Note Verbale of 6 July 2011 (of
which only the English version is in the record before the Tribunal) refers to “waters of which
China has historic titles including sovereign rights and jurisdiction.”232 This instance is at odds
with the vast majority of China’s statements, however, and the Tribunal considers that it more
230

Continental Shelf (Tunisia/Libyan Arab Jamahiriya), Judgment, ICJ Reports 1982, p. 18 at pp. 73-74,
para. 100.

231

Memorial, para. 4.28; Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 1), p. 34.

232

Note Verbale from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Manila to the Department of
Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, No. (11) PG-202 (6 July 2011) (Annex 202).

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likely represents an error in translation or an instance of imprecise drafting, rather than a claim
by China to sovereignty over the entirety of the South China Sea.
228. More importantly, however, the Tribunal does not see that the absence of a claim to historic title
can be inferred from China’s use of the broader and less-specific term, as historic title
constitutes one form of historic right. For the Tribunal, the dispositive proof that China’s claim
is not one to historic title lies in China’s conduct, which as discussed above (see paragraphs 207
to 214) is incompatible with a claim that the waters of the South China Sea constitute China’s
territorial sea or internal waters.
229. Having concluded that the exception to jurisdiction in Article 298(1)(a)(i) is limited to disputes
involving historic titles and that China does not claim historic title to the waters of South China
Sea, but rather a constellation of historic rights short of title, the Tribunal holds that it has
jurisdiction to consider the Philippines’ Submissions No. 1 and 2. As China has not made such
a claim, the Tribunal need not consider whether there would be any limit to the application of
Article 298 to expansive claims of historic title extending well beyond those that may have been
anticipated when the Convention was concluded in 1982.
2.

The Merits of the Philippines’ Submissions No. 1 and 2

230. Having determined that it has jurisdiction to consider the Philippines’ Submissions No. 1 and 2,
the Tribunal now turns to the merits of those claims.
231. Building on prior international law and the 1958 Conventions on the Law of the Sea, the
Convention establishes limits for maritime entitlements and sets out the rights and obligations of
coastal States—as well as other States—within such maritime zones. Articles 2 through 32 of
the Convention govern the rights and obligations of States within the territorial sea and limit the
extent of the territorial sea to 12 nautical miles. Articles 55 through 75 of the Convention
provide for the creation of an exclusive economic zone and limit its extent to 200 nautical miles.
Articles 76 to 85 of the Convention govern the rights and obligations of States to the continental
shelf, generally limit the continental shelf to 200 nautical miles, and set out technical criteria
according to which some States may claim a continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles.
Articles 86 through 120 and 133 through 191 of the Convention govern the rights and
obligations of States in the high seas and in the Area of seabed beyond the limits of national
jurisdiction.

The Convention thus provides—and defines limits within—a comprehensive

system of maritime zones that is capable of encompassing any area of sea or seabed.

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232. The Tribunal has already indicated that it understands, on the basis of China’s actions, that
China claims historic rights to the living and non-living resources in the waters of the South
China Sea within the ‘nine-dash line’, but that China does not consider that those waters form
part of its territorial sea or internal waters (other than the territorial sea generated by islands).
Such a claim would not be incompatible with the Convention in any areas where China already
possesses such rights through the operation of the Convention. This would, in particular, be the
case within China’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. However, to the extent that
China’s claim to historic rights extends to areas that would be considered to form part of the
entitlement of the Philippines to an exclusive economic zone or continental shelf, it would be at
least at variance with the Convention.
233. In its Submissions No. 1 and 2, the Philippines requests the Tribunal to declare that China’s
entitlements in the South China Sea are limited to those provided for in the Convention and that
any claim to historic rights, or other sovereign rights and jurisdiction, within the area of the
‘nine-dash line’ in excess of that provided for in the Convention is prohibited.
234. China’s claims to rights and jurisdiction within the ‘nine-dash line’ and the Philippines’
Submissions on this dispute raise three issues that are related, but distinct:
(a)

First, does the Convention, and in particular its rules for the exclusive economic zone and
continental shelf, allow for the preservation of rights to living and non-living resources
that are at variance with the provisions of the Convention and which may have been
established prior to the Convention’s entry into force by agreement or unilateral act?

(b)

Second, prior to the entry into force of the Convention, did China have historic rights and
jurisdiction over living and non-living resources in the waters of the South China Sea
beyond the limits of the territorial sea?

(c)

Third, and independently of the first two considerations, has China in the years since the
conclusion of the Convention established rights and jurisdiction over living and
non-living resources in the waters of the South China Sea that are at variance with the
provisions of the Convention? If so, would such establishment of rights and jurisdiction
be compatible with the Convention?
(a)

The Convention and Prior Claims to Historic Rights and Jurisdiction

235. The Tribunal is faced with the question of whether the Convention allows the preservation of
rights to resources which are at variance with the Convention and established anterior to its
entry into force. To answer this, it is necessary to examine the relationship between the
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Convention and other possible sources of rights under international law. The relationship
between the Convention and other international agreements is set out in Article 311 of the
Convention. The Tribunal considers that this provision applies equally to the interaction of the
Convention with other norms of international law, such as historic rights, that do not take the
form of an agreement. Article 311 provides as follows:
Article 311
Relation to other conventions and international agreements
1.

This Convention shall prevail, as between States Parties, over the Geneva
Conventions on the Law of the Sea of 29 April 1958.

2.

This Convention shall not alter the rights and obligations of States Parties which
arise from other agreements compatible with this Convention and which do not
affect the enjoyment by other States Parties of their rights or the performance of
their obligations under this Convention.

3.

Two or more States Parties may conclude agreements modifying or suspending the
operation of provisions of this Convention, applicable solely to the relations between
them, provided that such agreements do not relate to a provision derogation from
which is incompatible with the effective execution of the object and purpose of this
Convention, and provided further that such agreements shall not affect the
application of the basic principles embodied herein, and that the provisions of such
agreements do not affect the enjoyment by other States Parties of their rights or the
performance of their obligations under this Convention.

4.

States Parties intending to conclude an agreement referred to in paragraph 3 shall
notify the other States Parties through the depositary of this Convention of their
intention to conclude the agreement and of the modification or suspension for which
it provides.

5.

This article does not affect international agreements expressly permitted or
preserved by other articles of this Convention.

6.

States Parties agree that there shall be no amendments to the basic principle relating
to the common heritage of mankind set forth in article 136 and that they shall not be
party to any agreement in derogation thereof.

236. The relationship between the Convention and other rules of international law is also made clear
in Article 293(1) of the Convention, which applies to dispute resolution—including these
proceedings—and provides that “[a] court or tribunal having jurisdiction under this section shall
apply this Convention and other rules of international law not incompatible with this
Convention.”
237. These provisions mirror the general rules of international law concerning the interaction of
different bodies of law, which provide that the intent of the parties to a convention will control
its relationship with other instruments. This can be seen, in the case of conflicts between
treaties, in Article 30 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Articles 30(2) and
30(3) of the Vienna Convention provide that, as between treaties, the later treaty will prevail to

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the extent of any incompatibility, unless either treaty specifies that it is subject to the other, in
which case the intent of the parties will prevail.
238. In the case of the Convention, the application of these rules leads to four propositions:
(a)

Where the Convention expressly permits or preserves other international agreements,
Article 311(5) provides that such agreements shall remain unaffected. The Tribunal
considers that this provision applies equally where historic rights, which may not strictly
take the form of an agreement, are expressly permitted or preserved, such as in
Articles 10 and 15, which expressly refer to historic bays and historic titles.

(b)

Where the Convention does not expressly permit or preserve a prior agreement, rule of
customary international law, or historic right, such prior norms will not be incompatible
with the Convention where their operation does not conflict with any provision of the
Convention or to the extent that interpretation indicates that the Convention intended the
prior agreements, rules, or rights to continue in operation.

(c)

Where rights and obligations arising independently of the Convention are not
incompatible with its provisions, Article 311(2) provides that their operation will remain
unaltered.

(d)

Where independent rights and obligations have arisen prior to the entry into force of the
Convention and are incompatible with its provisions, the principles set out in
Article 30(3) of the Vienna Convention and Article 293 of the Convention provide that
the Convention will prevail over the earlier, incompatible rights or obligations.

239. No article of the Convention expressly provides for or permits the continued existence of
historic rights to the living or non-living resources of the exclusive economic zone. Similarly,
nothing in the Convention expressly provides for or permits a State to maintain historic rights
over the living and non-living resources of the continental shelf, the high seas, or the Area. The
question for the Tribunal is therefore whether the Convention nevertheless intended the
continued operation of such historic rights, such that China’s claims should be considered not
incompatible with the Convention.
i.

The Text and Context of the Convention

240. Within the exclusive economic zone, Article 56(1) of the Convention provides for the sovereign
rights and jurisdiction of the coastal State in the following terms:

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Article 56
Rights, jurisdiction and duties of the coastal State in the exclusive economic zone
1.

In the exclusive economic zone, the coastal State has:
(a)

sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and
managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters
superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil, and with regard to
other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone,
such as the production of energy from the water, currents and winds;

(b)

jurisdiction as provided for in the relevant provisions of this Convention with
regard to:

(c)

(i)

the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations and
structures;

(ii)

marine scientific research;

(iii)

the protection and preservation of the marine environment;

other rights and duties provided for in this Convention.

241. The rights of other States in the exclusive economic zone are then set out in Article 58, which
limits them to navigation, overflight, and the laying of submarine cables and pipelines, and other
internationally lawful uses of the sea related to these freedoms. High seas rights and freedoms
apply in the exclusive economic zone only to the extent they are not incompatible with the
provisions of this part of the Convention. Article 58 of the Convention provides as follows:
Article 58
Rights and duties of other States in the exclusive economic zone
1.

In the exclusive economic zone, all States, whether coastal or land-locked, enjoy,
subject to the relevant provisions of this Convention, the freedoms referred to in
article 87 of navigation and overflight and of the laying of submarine cables and
pipelines, and other internationally lawful uses of the sea related to these freedoms,
such as those associated with the operation of ships, aircraft and submarine cables
and pipelines, and compatible with the other provisions of this Convention.

2.

Articles 88 to 115 and other pertinent rules of international law apply to the
exclusive economic zone in so far as they are not incompatible with this Part.

3.

In exercising their rights and performing their duties under this Convention in the
exclusive economic zone, States shall have due regard to the rights and duties of the
coastal State and shall comply with the laws and regulations adopted by the coastal
State in accordance with the provisions of this Convention and other rules of
international law in so far as they are not incompatible with this Part.

242. Finally, the rights of other States “whose nationals have habitually fished in the zone” are
specifically addressed in Article 62 of the Convention. Under this provision, coastal States are
only obliged to permit fishing in the exclusive economic zone by foreign nationals in the event
that the coastal State lacks the capacity to harvest the entire allowable catch. Even then, historic
fishing in the area is only one of the criteria to be applied in allocating access, and foreign

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fishing is subject to the laws and regulation of the coastal State. Article 62 of the Convention
provides in relevant part as follows:
Article 62
Utilization of the living resources
1.

The coastal State shall promote the objective of optimum utilization of the living
resources in the exclusive economic zone without prejudice to article 61.

2.

The coastal State shall determine its capacity to harvest the living resources of the
exclusive economic zone. Where the coastal State does not have the capacity to
harvest the entire allowable catch, it shall, through agreements or other arrangements
and pursuant to the terms, conditions, laws and regulations referred to in
paragraph 4, give other States access to the surplus of the allowable catch, having
particular regard to the provisions of articles 69 and 70, especially in relation to the
developing States mentioned therein.

3.

In giving access to other States to its exclusive economic zone under this article, the
coastal State shall take into account all relevant factors, including, inter alia, the
significance of the living resources of the area to the economy of the coastal State
concerned and its other national interests, the provisions of articles 69 and 70, the
requirements of developing States in the subregion or region in harvesting part of
the surplus and the need to minimize economic dislocation in States whose nationals
have habitually fished in the zone or which have made substantial efforts in research
and identification of stocks.

4.

Nationals of other States fishing in the exclusive economic zone shall comply with
the conservation measures and with the other terms and conditions established in the
laws and regulations of the coastal State. These laws and regulations shall be
consistent with this Convention and may relate, inter alia, to the following . . . .

243. As a matter of the text alone, the Tribunal considers that the Convention is clear in according
sovereign rights to the living and non-living resources of the exclusive economic zone to the
coastal State alone. The notion of sovereign rights over living and non-living resources is
generally incompatible with another State having historic rights to the same resources, in
particular if such historic rights are considered exclusive, as China’s claim to historic rights
appears to be. Furthermore, the Tribunal considers that, as a matter of ordinary interpretation,
the (a) express inclusion of an article setting out the rights of other States and (b) attention given
to the rights of other States in the allocation of any excess catch preclude the possibility that the
Convention intended for other States to have rights in the exclusive economic zone in excess of
those specified.
244. The same considerations apply with respect to the sovereign rights of the continental shelf,
which are set out in Article 77 of the Convention. On the continental shelf, the rights of other
States are limited to laying cables and pipelines and to the rights and freedoms to which they are
otherwise entitled in the superjacent waters.

Indeed, the provisions of the Convention

concerning the continental shelf are even more explicit that rights to the living and non-living
resources pertain to the coastal State exclusively. Article 77(2) expressly provides that “[t]he
rights referred to in paragraph 1 [relating to natural resources] are exclusive in the sense that if
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the coastal State does not explore the continental shelf or exploit its natural resources, no one
may undertake these activities without the express consent of the coastal State.” Article 81
similarly states that “[t]he coastal State shall have the exclusive right to authorize and regulate
drilling on the continental shelf for all purposes.”
245. Moving from the text to the context of exclusive economic zone rights, the Tribunal recalls its
earlier observation (see paragraph 231 above) that the system of maritime zones created by the
Convention was intended to be comprehensive and to cover any area of sea or seabed. The
same intention for the Convention to provide a complete basis for the rights and duties of the
States Parties is apparent in the Preamble, which notes the intention to settle “all issues relating
to the law of the sea” and emphasises the desirability of establishing “a legal order for the seas.”
The same objective of limiting exceptions to the Convention to the greatest extent possible is
also evident in Article 309, which provides that “[n]o reservations or exceptions may be made
to this Convention unless expressly permitted by other articles of this Convention.”
246. China has stated its view that its “relevant rights in the South China Sea, formed in the long
historical course” are “protected under international law including the United Nations
Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).”233 Insofar as China’s relevant rights comprise a
claim to historic rights to living and non-living resources within the ‘nine-dash line’, partially in
areas that would otherwise comprise the exclusive economic zone or continental shelf of the
Philippines, the Tribunal cannot agree with this position. The Convention does not include any
express provisions preserving or protecting historic rights that are at variance with the
Convention. On the contrary, the Convention supersedes earlier rights and agreements to the
extent of any incompatibility. The Convention is comprehensive in setting out the nature of the
exclusive economic zone and continental shelf and the rights of other States within those zones.
China’s claim to historic rights is not compatible with these provisions.
247. The Tribunal considers the text and context of the Convention to be clear in superseding any
historic rights that a State may once have had in the areas that now form part of the exclusive
economic zone and continental shelf of another State. There is no ambiguity here that would
call for the Tribunal to have recourse to the supplementary means of interpretation set out in
Article 32 of the Vienna Convention. Nevertheless, in light of the sensitivity of the matters at
issue in these proceedings, the Tribunal considers it warranted to recall the origin of and purpose
behind the Convention’s provisions on the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.
233

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of
the People’s Republic of China on the Award on Jurisdiction and Admissibility of the South China Sea
Arbitration by the Arbitral Tribunal Established at the Request of the Republic of the Philippines
(30 October 2015) (Annex 649).

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ii.

The Negotiation of the Convention and the Creation of the Exclusive
Economic Zone

248. The Tribunal recalls that prior to the adoption of the Convention, the principal failure of the
First and Second UN Conferences on the Law of the Sea was the lack of agreement on the
breadth of the territorial sea and the extent of coastal States’ jurisdiction over the resources, then
principally involving fisheries, of the waters adjacent to their coasts. This period coincided with
the widespread decolonisation of developing States, and many newly independent governments
sought to secure greater control over the waters adjacent to their coasts. The lack of agreement
on an international standard and the growing capabilities of the long-distance fishing fleets of
developed States led to the widespread unilateral declaration of exclusive fishing zones of
varying breadths and to the declaration, by some States, of a 200-nautical-mile territorial sea.
Such claims to zones, including the Icelandic exclusive fishing zones considered by the
International Court of Justice in the Fisheries Jurisdiction cases,234 were generally opposed by
the traditional maritime States, which sought to limit the scope of national jurisdiction.
249. The creation of the Ad Hoc and Permanent Seabed Committees that preceded the Third UN
Conference on the Law of the Sea was prompted by concern with this unregulated propagation
of claims to maritime rights and jurisdiction and with the prospect that technological
developments would rapidly enable the greater exploitation of the resources of the seabed,
which would fall to those States most capable of claiming them.235 Latin American and African
States organised around an assertion of greater control over coastal resources 236 and draft
articles on the concept of an exclusive economic zone were introduced by Kenya during the
1972 session of the Seabed Committee.237 In this form, the exclusive economic zone was a
compromise proposal: a standardised form of coastal State jurisdiction—exclusive if the coastal
State so desired—over living and non-living resources that nevertheless stopped short of
extending the territorial sea beyond 12 nautical miles.
234

Fisheries Jurisdiction (United Kingdom v. Iceland), Merits, Judgment, ICJ Reports 1974, p. 3; Fisheries
Jurisdiction (Federal Republic of Germany v. Iceland), Merits, Judgment, ICJ Reports 1974, p. 175.

235

See, e.g., Remarks of the Ambassador of Malta, First Committee, 1515 th Meeting,
UN Doc. A/C.1/PV.1515 (1 November 1967), Official Records of the UN General Assembly,
22nd Session.

236

See, e.g., “Conclusions in the General Report of the African States Regional Seminar on the Law of the
Sea, Held at Yaoundé from 20-30 June 1972,” United Nations Legislative Series, National Legislation
and Treaties relating to the Law of the Sea, ST/LEG/SER.B/16, p. 601; “Specialized Conference of
Caribbean Countries concerning the Problems of the Sea: The Declaration of Santo Domingo”
(Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Trinidad
and Tobago, and Venezuela) (9 June 1972), reproduced in 11 ILM 892.

237

Report of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of the Sea-Bed and the Ocean Floor Beyond the Limits of
National Jurisdiction, UN Doc. A/8721 (1972) at p. 180-182, Official Records of the UN General
Assembly, 27th Session, Supplement No. 21.

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250. The Tribunal recalls this history because it frames the debates that took place during the
negotiation of the Convention. Japan and the Soviet Union possessed the largest distant sea
fishing fleets and sought to preserve the status quo, advancing proposals that would have
provided only for “preferential rights” for coastal States, while protecting the position of
traditional fishing States. As summarised by Japan:
While according a preferential right of catch to developing coastal States corresponding to
their harvesting capacities and a differentiated preferential right to developed coastal States,
the proposals also take into consideration the legitimate interests of other States. Thus, they
seek to ensure that a gradual accommodation of interests can be brought about in the
expanding exploitation and use of fishery resources of the high seas, without causing any
abrupt change in the present order in fishing which might result in disturbing the economic
and social structures of States.238

The Soviet Union, for its part, sought to limit the rights of coastal States to fisheries beyond
12 nautical miles to a preferential right to reserve “such part of the allowable catch of fish as can
be taken by vessels navigating under that State’s flag.” 239 These proposals were ultimately
rejected and are not reflected in the text of the Convention, as adopted.
251. In the course of these debates, China actively positioned itself as one of the foremost defenders
of the rights of developing States and was resolutely opposed to any suggestion that coastal
States could be obliged to share the resources of the exclusive economic zone with other powers
that had historically fished in those waters. The Tribunal considers the remarks of Mr. Ling
Ching on behalf of China during the 24th meeting of the Second Committee to be representative
of the committed position that China repeatedly took during the negotiation of the Convention:
On the question whether the coastal State should exercise full sovereignty over the
renewable and non-renewable resources in its economic zone or merely have preferential
rights to them, [Mr. Ling] said that such resources in the off-shore sea areas of a coastal
State were an integral part of its natural resources. The super-Powers had for years
wantonly plundered the offshore resources of developing coastal States, thereby seriously
damaging their interests. Declaration of permanent sovereignty over such resources was a
legitimate right, which should be respected by other countries. The super-Powers,
however, while giving verbal recognition to the economic zone, were advocating the
placing of restrictions on the sovereignty of coastal States over their resources. For
example, one of them had proposed that the coastal State should allow foreign fishermen
the right to fish within that zone in cases where the State did not harvest 100 per cent of the
allowable catch. Such logic made no sense. The suggestion in fact harked back to that
super-Power’s well-known proposal that coastal States should be allowed only “preferential
rights” when fishing their own off-shore areas. Yet, the establishment of exclusive

238

Japan, “Proposals for a Régime of Fisheries on the High Seas,” UN Doc. A/AC.138/SC.II/L.12 (1972),
reproduced in Report of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of the Sea-Bed and the Ocean Floor Beyond
the Limits of National Jurisdiction, UN Doc. A/8721 at p. 188, Official Records of the UN General
Assembly, 27th Session, Supplement No. 21.

239

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, “Draft Article on Fishing (Basic Provisions and Explanatory Note),”
UN Doc. A/AC.138/SC.II/L.6 (1972) reproduced in Report of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of the
Sea-Bed and the Ocean Floor Beyond the Limits of National Jurisdiction, UN Doc. A/8721 at p. 158,
Official Records of the UN General Assembly, 27th Session, Supplement No. 21.

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economic zones over the resources of which coastal States would exercise permanent
sovereignty simply meant that the developing countries were regaining their long-lost rights
and in no way implied a sacrifice on the part of the super-Powers. The coastal State should
be permitted to decide whether foreign fishermen were allowed to fish in the areas under its
jurisdiction by virtue of bilateral or regional agreements, but it should not be obliged to
grant other States any such rights.240

252. The Tribunal notes these comments not because the remarks of any particular State during the
negotiation of a multilateral Convention are indicative of the content of the final treaty, but
because China’s resolute opposition to any accommodation of historic fishing is largely
representative of the position that prevailed in the final text of the Convention. The Tribunal
also notes that China’s position, as asserted during the negotiation of the Convention, is
incompatible with a claim that China would be entitled to historic rights to living and non-living
resources in the South China Sea that would take precedence over the exclusive economic zone
rights of the other littoral States. China never advanced such a claim during the course of the
negotiations, notwithstanding that the South China Sea and the question of sovereignty over the
Spratly Islands was raised on several occasions in exchanges between China and the Philippines
during the work of the Seabed Committee241 and between China and Viet Nam during the Third
UN Conference.242
240

“Summary
Records
of
Meetings
of
the
Second
Committee,
24th
Meeting,”
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.24 at para. 2 (1 August 1974), Official Records of the Third United Nations
Conference on the Law of the Sea, Volume II (Summary Records of Meetings of the First, Second and
Third Committees, Second Session), p. 187; see also “Summary Records of Meetings of the Second
Committee, 26th Meeting,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.26 at para. 108 (5 August 1974), Official
Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, Volume II (Summary Records of
Meetings of the First, Second and Third Committees, Second Session), p. 210; “Summary Records of
Meetings of the Second Committee, 30th Meeting,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.30 at para. 22
(7 August 1974), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea,
Volume II (Summary Records of Meetings of the First, Second and Third Committees, Second Session),
p. 228; “Summary Records of the Meetings of the Second Committee, 48 th Meeting,”
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.48 at para. 29 (2 May 1975), Official Records of the Third United Nations
Conference on the Law of the Sea, Volume IV (Summary Records, Plenary, General Committee, First,
Second and Third Committees, as well as Documents of the Conference, Third Session), p. 77.

241

Committee on the Peaceful Uses of the Sea-Bed and the Ocean Floor Beyond the Limits of National
Jurisdiction, “Summary Records of the 72nd Meeting,” UN Doc. A/AC.138/SR.72 at pp. 13-18, 20
(3 March 1972); Committee on the Peaceful Uses of the Sea-Bed and the Ocean Floor Beyond the Limits
of National Jurisdiction, “Summary Records of the 73 rd Meeting,” UN Doc. A/AC.138/SR.73 at pp. 33-35
(10 March 1972).

242

“Summary Records of Plenary Meetings, 25 th Plenary Meeting,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/SR.25 at para. 21
(5 August 1974), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, Volume
I (Summary Records of Plenary Meetings of the First and Second Sessions, and of Meetings of the
General Committee, Second Session), p. 81; “Summary Records of Plenary Meetings, 191st Plenary
Meeting,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/SR.191 at para. 36 (9 December 1982), Official Records of the Third
United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, Volume XVII (Plenary Meetings, Summary Records
and Verbatim Records, as well as Documents of the Conference, Resumed Eleventh Session and Final
Part Eleventh Session and Conclusion), p. 103; “Note by the Secretariat,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/WS/37
and Add.1-2 (1983), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea,
Volume XVII (Plenary Meetings, Summary Records and Verbatim Records, as well as Documents of the
Conference, Resumed Eleventh Session and Final Part Eleventh Session and Conclusion), p. 240.

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253. The Tribunal also considers the negotiating history of the Convention instructive for the light it
sheds on the intent for the Convention to serve as a comprehensive text and the importance to
that goal of the prohibition on reservations enshrined in Article 309. The Convention was
negotiated on the basis of consensus and the final text represented a package deal.

A

prohibition on reservations was seen as essential to prevent States from clawing back through
reservations those portions of the final compromise that they had opposed in negotiations. In
this respect the Convention follows the practice of other multilateral treaties considered to be of
fundamental importance, including the UN Charter, the Rome Statute of the International
Criminal Court, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The importance of a
comprehensive agreement, without reservations, is well expressed in the Conference President’s
remarks to the Informal Plenary and Group of Legal Experts tasked with preparing the final
clauses:
Our prime concern is the establishment of a completely integrated legal order for the use of
the oceans and its resources and potential. All else must be subordinated to and subserve
this purpose. This is the function of the Preamble and the Final Clauses. They must not be
allowed to create such contention as would obscure and obstruct the overriding objective,
hamper the work of the Conference and imperil our chances of success.
We must seek to preserve intact, and protect, the efficacy and durability of the body of law
which we are trying to create in the form of a Convention encompassing all issues and
problems relating to the law of the sea as a package comprising certain elements that
constitute a single and indivisible entity.
We must seek to attract the most extensive and representative degree of ratification and the
earliest possible entry into force of the new Convention.
The second objective that I have specified here cannot be achieved if we expose the
essential unity and coherence of the new body of law to the danger of impairment through
the unrestricted exercise of the right of reservation.243

254. On this issue, the Tribunal notes that China and other States were opposed to a complete ban on
reservations244 and that the final approach in the Convention represents a compromise: certain
permissible reservations are set out in the text of the Convention while any other reservation is
prohibited. Thus China was entitled to, and did, activate the reservations to compulsory dispute
settlement in Article 298—that the Tribunal has already determined do not apply to the present
dispute—but is not entitled to except itself from the system of compulsory settlement
243

“Note by the President on the Final Clauses,” UN Doc. FC/1 (23 July 1979), reproduced in
Renate Platzöder (ed.), Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea: Documents, Vol. XII,
p. 349 (1987).

244

See “Summary Records of Plenary Meetings, 135th Plenary Meeting,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/SR.135,
paras. 52-53 (25 August 1980), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of
the Sea, Volume XIV (Summary Records, Plenary, General Committee, First and Third Committees, as
well as Documents of the Conference, Resumed Ninth Session), pp. 23-24; “Summary Records of Plenary
Meetings, 161st Plenary Meeting,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/SR.161 at para. 30 (31 March 1982), Official
Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, Volume XVI (Summary Records,
Plenary, First and Second Committees, as well as Documents of the Conference, Eleventh Session), p. 32.

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generally. 245 In the Tribunal’s view, the prohibition on reservations is informative of the
Convention’s approach to historic rights. It is simply inconceivable that the drafters of the
Convention could have gone to such lengths to forge a consensus text and to prohibit any but a
few express reservations while, at the same time, anticipating that the resulting Convention
would be subordinate to broad claims of historic rights.
iii.

Rights in the Exclusive Economic Zone in other Disputes concerning the
Law of the Sea

255. The present dispute is not the first instance in which a State has claimed rights in or to the
exclusive economic zone of a neighbouring State. The Tribunal considers it useful, for the
purpose of confirming its own reasoning, to briefly canvas the other decisions to have addressed
claims involving rights in the exclusive economic zone of another State.
256. In the Tribunal’s view, the most relevant instance occurs in the consideration given to historic
fishing activities in the delimitation of the Gulf of Maine between the United States and Canada
by a chamber of the International Court of Justice. The area to be delimited included the
Georges Bank, with its abundant fisheries resources, and the United States argued that the
delimitation line should take account of the longstanding use of the bank by U.S. fishermen.
The Chamber not only rejected this argument for the purposes of the delimitation, but went on
to comment on the nature of U.S. fishing rights and the effect on U.S. fishing activities of the
adoption by the United States and Canada of exclusive fisheries zones, the case having been
instituted prior to the declaration of a full exclusive economic zone by the United States but at a
time when States had already begun to declare such zones unilaterally in reflection of the
emerging consensus at the Third UN Conference. In this context, the Chamber in Gulf of Maine
commented as follows:
The Chamber cannot adopt these positions of the Parties. Concerning that of the United
States, it can only confirm its decision not to ascribe any decisive weight, for the purposes
of the delimitation it is charged to carry out, to the antiquity or continuity of fishing
activities carried on in the past within that part of the delimitation area which lies outside
the closing line of the Gulf. Until very recently, as the Chamber has recalled, these
expanses were part of the high seas and as such freely open to the fishermen not only of the
United States and Canada but also of other countries, and they were indeed fished by very
many nationals of the latter. The Chamber of course readily allows that, during that period
of free competition, the United States, as the coastal State, may have been able at certain
places and times—no matter for how long—to achieve an actual predominance for its
fisheries. But after the coastal States had set up exclusive 200-mile fishery zones, the
situation radically altered. Third States and their nationals found themselves deprived of
any right of access to the sea areas within those zones and of any position of advantage they
might have been able to achieve within them. As for the United States, any mere factual
predominance which it had been able to secure in the area was transformed into a situation
245

See Award on Jurisdiction, para. 107.

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of legal monopoly to the extent that the localities in question became legally part of its own
exclusive fishery zone. Conversely, to the extent that they had become part of the exclusive
fishery zone of the neighbouring State, no reliance could any longer be placed on that
predominance. Clearly, whatever preferential situation the United States may previously
have enjoyed, this cannot constitute in itself a valid ground for its now claiming the
incorporation into its own exclusive fishery zone of any area which, in law, has become
part of Canada’s.246

257. The present case does not, of course, involve delimitation, but the Tribunal considers the
Chamber’s views on the effect of exclusive fisheries zones, declared as a matter of customary
law, to confirm its own interpretation of the provisions of the Convention. The Tribunal has no
doubt that Chinese fisherman have long made use of the waters of the South China Sea,
including in areas beyond the territorial sea of any feature. If China had historic rights giving it
a privileged position with respect to the resources of such waters, the acceptance of the
exclusive economic zone as a matter of customary law and China’s adherence to the Convention
altered that situation. Through the Convention, China gained additional rights in the areas
adjacent to its coasts that became part of its exclusive economic zone, including the areas
adjacent to any island entitled to such a zone. It necessarily follows, however, that China also
relinquished the rights it may have held in the waters allocated by the Convention to the
exclusive economic zones of other States.
258. A contrary indication could be ascribed to the decision of the International Court of Justice in
the Fisheries Jurisdiction Cases.247 In those disputes, which concerned Iceland’s declaration of
a 50-nautical-mile exclusive fishing zone, the Court held that the preferential rights asserted by
Iceland’s fishing zone were not compatible with the exclusion of all fishing by other States and
that Iceland could not extinguish the rights of other States to have habitually fished in the
area.248 In the Tribunal’s view, however, this decision from 1974 must be understood in the
context of the law of the sea as it then was, which differs from the law prevailing under the
Convention or in the emergent customary law of the exclusive economic zone in effect at the
time of Gulf of Maine. As an initial matter, the Tribunal notes that the applicants in Fisheries
Jurisdiction, the United Kingdom and the Federal Republic of Germany, never asserted that
their historical fishing superseded Iceland’s declaration of a fisheries zone, but merely claimed a
right of access. This thus differs fundamentally from the present proceedings, where the
Tribunal understands China to consider that its claimed historic rights to living and non-living
246

Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary in the Gulf of Maine Area (Canada v. United States), Judgment,
ICJ Reports 1984, p. 246 at pp. 341-342, para. 235.

247

Fisheries Jurisdiction (United Kingdom v. Iceland), Merits, Judgment, ICJ Reports 1974, p. 3; Fisheries
Jurisdiction (Federal Republic of Germany v. Iceland), Merits, Judgment, ICJ Reports 1974, p. 175.

248

Fisheries Jurisdiction (United Kingdom v. Iceland), Merits, Judgment, ICJ Reports 1974, p. 3 at
pp 27-28, para. 62; Fisheries Jurisdiction (Federal Republic of Germany v. Iceland), Merits, Judgment,
ICJ Reports 1974, p. 175 at pp. 196-197, para. 54.

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resources effectively negate the exclusive economic zone rights of other littoral States to the
South China Sea. Notwithstanding this difference, the Tribunal also considers the reasoning
exhibited in Fisheries Jurisdiction to be inapplicable under the present law of the sea. At the
time Iceland declared its 50-nautical-mile zone in July 1972, the extension of national
jurisdiction over maritime areas beyond the territorial sea was still a hotly contested issue. As
the Court read the state of customary law then prevailing, it permitted an exclusive fishing zone
of only 12 nautical miles and preferential rights in an undefined area beyond that limit.249 Only
a few short years later, however, the processes at work in the Third UN Conference (described
above at paragraph 249 to 252) crystallised into the consensus in favour of the exclusive
economic zone. The law applied in Gulf of Maine and recorded in the Convention thus differed
materially from that considered by the Court in Fisheries Jurisdiction.
259. A contrary approach to Gulf of Maine might also be identified in the Eritrea v. Yemen
arbitration, in which the arbitral tribunal emphasised the importance of preserving traditional
fishing practices in the Red Sea which had been carried on for centuries, without regard for the
specifics of maritime boundaries. The arbitral tribunal also held that “[t]he traditional fishing
regime is not limited to the territorial waters of specified islands” but extended also through the
exclusive economic zone of Eritrea and Yemen. 250

The Philippines distinguishes this

decision —correctly in the Tribunal’s view—on the basis of applicable law. Eritrea v. Yemen
251

was not an arbitration under Annex VII to the Convention and that arbitral tribunal was not
bound by Article 293 to apply only the Convention and rules of law not incompatible therewith.
Instead, the Parties’ arbitration agreement empowered the arbitral tribunal, in the second stage
of the proceedings to render its decision “taking into account the opinion that it will have
formed on questions of territorial sovereignty, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the
Sea, and any other pertinent factor.” 252 The arbitral tribunal in Eritrea v. Yemen was thus
empowered to—and in the Tribunal’s view did—go beyond the law on traditional fishing as it
would exist under the Convention. The Tribunal will address below the scope of traditional
fishing rights under the current law of the sea in connection with the Philippines’ Submission
No. 10.

249

Fisheries Jurisdiction (United Kingdom v. Iceland), Merits, Judgment, ICJ Reports 1974, p. 3 at p. 23,
para. 52; Fisheries Jurisdiction (Federal Republic of Germany v. Iceland), Merits, Judgment, ICJ Reports
1974, p. 175 at pp. 191-192, para. 44.

250

Eritrea v. Yemen, Award of 17 December 1999, RIAA Vol. XXII, p. 335 at p. 361, para. 109.

251

Memorial, paras. 4.65-4.69.

252

Eritrea v. Yemen, Award of 17 December 1999, Annex I – The Arbitration Agreement, art. 2(3), RIAA
Vol. XXII, p. 335 at p. 374.

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260. Finally, the Tribunal notes that the arbitral tribunal in the Chagos Marine Protected Area
Arbitration held that Mauritius had rights in the exclusive economic zone declared by the
United Kingdom surrounding the British Indian Ocean Territory. These were not fishing rights,
in light of the Convention’s prohibition in Article 297 on compulsory settlement regarding
disputes over sovereign rights with respect to the living resources in the exclusive economic
zone, but rather a right to the eventual return of the Chagos Archipelago when no longer needed
for defence purposes and a right to the benefit of any oil or minerals discovered in or near the
Chagos Archipelago. These rights had their origins in assurances given in 1968 in connection
with the detachment of the Chagos Archipelago from the then-colony of Mauritius that were
repeated by the United Kingdom thereafter. In that case, however, not only did the United
Kingdom not argue that Mauritius’s rights were extinguished by the United Kingdom’s
declaration of an Environmental Protection and Preservation Zone/Fisheries Conservation and
Management Zone, but it reiterated its undertakings thereafter253 and emphasised that the zone it
had created was not an exclusive economic zone for purposes beyond fisheries and
environmental protection.254 Article 311 permits States to agree to modify certain aspects of the
Convention as between them (an issue the Tribunal will return to below) and the Tribunal
considers the United Kingdom’s reiteration of its undertakings following the adoption of the
Convention to fall within the ambit of that provision.
*
261. For all of the reasons discussed above, the Tribunal concludes that China’s claim to historic
rights to the living and non-living resources within the ‘nine-dash line’ is incompatible with the
Convention to the extent that it exceeds the limits of China’s maritime zones as provided for by
the Convention.

This is apparent in the text of the Convention which comprehensively

addresses the rights of other States within the areas of the exclusive economic zone and
continental shelf and leaves no space for an assertion of historic rights. It is also reinforced by
the negotiating record of the Convention where the importance of adopting a comprehensive
instrument was manifest and where the cause of securing the rights of developing States over
their exclusive economic zone and continental shelf was championed, in particular, by China.
262. Accordingly, upon China’s accession to the Convention and its entry into force, any historic
rights that China may have had to the living and non-living resources within the ‘nine-dash line’
were superseded, as a matter of law and as between the Philippines and China, by the limits of
the maritime zones provided for by the Convention. This should not be considered exceptional
253

Chagos Marine Protected Area (Mauritius v. United Kingdom), Award of 18 March 2015, para. 430.

254

Chagos Marine Protected Area (Mauritius v. United Kingdom), Award of 18 March 2015, para. 124.

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or unexpected. The Convention was a package that did not, and could not, fully reflect any
State’s prior understanding of its maritime rights. Accession to the Convention reflects a
commitment to bring incompatible claims into alignment with its provisions, and its continued
operation necessarily calls for compromise by those States with prior claims in excess of the
Convention’s limits.
(b)

China’s Claim to Historic Rights in the South China Sea

263. The Tribunal has held, in the preceding Section, that the entry into force of the Convention had
the effect of superseding any claim by China to historic rights to the living and non-living
resources within the ‘nine-dash line’ beyond the limits of China’s maritime zones as provided
for by the Convention. This conclusion would, in one sense, suffice to decide the dispute
presented by the Philippines’ Submissions No. 1 and 2. The Tribunal nevertheless considers it
important, for the sake of completeness, to distinguish among China’s claims to historic rights
and to separate those that are, in fact, in excess of and incompatible with the Convention, from
those that are not. The Tribunal considers that, in ratifying the Convention, China has, in fact,
relinquished far less in terms of its claim to historic rights than the foregoing conclusion might
initially suggest.

The Tribunal also considers that this is an area where communications

between the Parties have been characterised by a high degree of confusion and
misunderstanding.
264. In its public statements, diplomatic correspondence, and in its public Position Paper of
7 December 2014, China has repeatedly asserted its sovereignty over the Spratly Islands and
Scarborough Shoal.255 According to China, its nationals have historically engaged in navigation
and trade in the South China Sea and the activities of Chinese fishermen in residing, working,
and living among the Spratly Islands “are all manifestly recorded in Geng Lu Bu (Manual of
Sea Routes) which was passed down from generation to generation among Chinese
fishermen.” 256 There is, indeed, much interesting evidence—from all sides—that could be
considered by a tribunal empowered to address the question of sovereignty over the Spratly
Islands and Scarborough Shoal. This Tribunal, however, is not empowered to address that
question. For its part, the Philippines has likewise argued about the historical limits of China’s
land territory, the degree of China’s historical commitment to oceangoing trade and navigation,
255

See, e.g., China’s Position Paper, para. 4.

256

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s
Remarks on Relevant Issue about Taiping Dao (3 June 2016), available at
<www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/t1369189.shtml>; see also Letter from the
Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to the Netherlands to the individual members of the
Tribunal (3 June 2016).

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and China’s historical knowledge concerning the Spratly Islands.

In the Tribunal’s view,

however, much of this evidence—on both sides—has nothing to do with the question of whether
China has historically had rights to living and non-living resources beyond the limits of the
territorial sea in the South China Sea and therefore is irrelevant to the matters before this
Tribunal.
265. The Tribunal recalls that the process for the formation of historic rights in international law is
well summarised in the UN Secretariat’s 1962 Memorandum on the Juridical Regime of
Historic Waters, Including Historic Bays and requires the continuous exercise of the claimed
right by the State asserting the claim and acquiescence on the part of other affected States.
Although that memorandum discussed the formation of rights to sovereignty over historic
waters, as the Tribunal noted above (see paragraph 225), historic waters are merely one form of
historic right and the process is the same for claims to rights short of sovereignty.
266. Accordingly, the scope of a claim to historic rights depends upon the scope of the acts that are
carried out as the exercise of the claimed right. Evidence that either the Philippines or China
had historically made use of the islands of the South China Sea would, at most, support a claim
to historic rights to those islands. Evidence of use giving rise to historic rights with respect to
the islands, however, would not establish historic rights to the waters beyond the territorial sea.
The converse is also true: historic usage of the waters of the South China Sea cannot lead to
rights with respect to the islands there. The two domains are distinct.
267. Because the Tribunal is not addressing questions of sovereignty, evidence concerning either
Party’s historical use of the islands of the South China Sea is of no interest with respect to the
formation of historic rights (although, as will be discussed below (see paragraphs 549 to 551), it
may bear upon the status of features pursuant to Article 121(3)). The Tribunal does find it
relevant, however, to consider what would be required for it to find that China did have historic
maritime rights to the living and non-living resources within the ‘nine-dash line’.
268. On this issue, the Tribunal notes that historic rights are, in most instances, exceptional rights.
They accord a right that a State would not otherwise hold, were it not for the operation of the
historical process giving rise to the right and the acquiescence of other States in the process. It
follows from this, however, that the exercise of freedoms permitted under international law
cannot give rise to a historic right; it involves nothing that would call for the acquiescence of
other States and can only represent the use of what international law already freely permits.
269. Prior to the introduction of the Convention system—and certainly prior to the Second World
War—the international legal regime for the oceans recognised only a narrow belt of territorial
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sea and the vast areas of high seas that comprised (and still comprise) the majority of the
oceans. Under this regime, nearly all of the South China Sea formed part of the high seas, and
indeed China’s Declaration of the Government of the People’s Republic of China on China’s
Territorial Sea of 4 September 1958 expressly recognises that it applies to “the Dongsha
Islands, the Xisha Islands, the Zhongsha Islands, the Nansha Islands and all other islands
belonging to China which are separated from the mainland and its coastal islands by the high
seas.”257 For much of history, therefore, China’s navigation and trade in the South China Sea,
as well as fishing beyond the territorial sea, represented the exercise of high seas freedoms.
China engaged in activities that were permitted to all States by international law, as did the
Philippines and other littoral States surrounding the South China Sea. Before the Second World
War, the use of the seabed, beyond the limits of the territorial sea, was likewise a freedom open
to any State that wished to do so, although as a practical matter the technological ability to do so
effectively has emerged only more recently.
270. Historical navigation and fishing, beyond the territorial sea, cannot therefore form the basis for
the emergence of a historic right. As the Chamber in Gulf of Maine recognised with respect to
historic U.S. fishing on the Georges Bank, such activity was merely the exercise of freedoms
already permitted by international law. 258 Evidence that merely points to even very intensive
Chinese navigation and fishing in the South China Sea would be insufficient. Instead, in order
to establish historic rights in the waters of the South China Sea, it would be necessary to show
that China had engaged in activities that deviated from what was permitted under the freedom of
the high seas and that other States acquiesced in such a right. In practice, to establish the
exclusive historic right to living and non-living resources within the ‘nine-dash line’, which
China now appears to claim, it would be necessary to show that China had historically sought to
prohibit or restrict the exploitation of such resources by the nationals of other States and that
those States had acquiesced in such restrictions. In the Tribunal’s view, such a claim cannot be
supported. The Tribunal is unable to identify any evidence that would suggest that China
historically regulated or controlled fishing in the South China Sea, beyond the limits of the
territorial sea. With respect to the non-living resources of the seabed, the Tribunal does not
even see how this would be theoretically possible. Seabed mining was a glimmer of an idea
when the Seabed Committee began the negotiations that led to the Convention. Offshore oil
extraction was in its infancy and only recently became possible in deep water areas. Indeed, the
257

People’s Republic of China, Declaration of the Government of the People’s Republic of China on China’s
Territorial Sea (4 September 1958), in Collection of the Sea Laws and Regulations of the People’s
Republic of China (3rd ed. 2001) (emphasis added).

258

Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary in the Gulf of Maine Area (Canada v. United States), Judgment,
ICJ Reports 1984, p. 246 at pp. 341-342, para. 235.

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China National Offshore Oil Corporation itself was only founded in 1982, the same year that
China signed the Convention. With respect to the seabed, the Tribunal does not see any
historical activity that could have been restricted or controlled, and correspondingly no basis for
a historic right.
271. Accordingly, in the Tribunal’s view, China’s ratification of the Convention in June 1996 did not
extinguish historic rights in the waters of the South China Sea. Rather, China relinquished the
freedoms of the high seas that it had previously utilised with respect to the living and non-living
resources of certain sea areas which the international community had collectively determined to
place within the ambit of the exclusive economic zone of other States. At the same time, China
gained a greater degree of control over the maritime zones adjacent to and projecting from its
coasts and islands. China’s freedom to navigate the South China Sea remains unaffected.
272. Finally, because the Tribunal considers the question of historic rights with respect to maritime
areas to be entirely distinct from that of historic rights to land, the Tribunal considers it opportune
to note that certain claims remain unaffected by this decision. In particular, the Tribunal
emphasises that nothing in this Award should be understood to comment in any way on China’s
historic claim to the islands of the South China Sea. Nor does the Tribunal’s decision that a
claim of historic rights to living and non-living resources is not compatible with the Convention
limit China’s ability to claim maritime zones in accordance with the Convention, on the basis of
such islands. The Tribunal will address the question of the entitlements that can be generated
by different features in the South China Sea in the following Chapter.
(c)

Whether China has Established Exceptional Rights or Jurisdiction since the
Adoption of the Convention

273. As a final matter, and for the sake of completeness, the Tribunal considers it appropriate to
briefly address whether China has acquired rights or jurisdiction at variance with the
Convention in the years since the Convention entered into force in 1996.
274. Paragraphs 3 and 4 of Article 311 of the Convention permit States to agree between them to
modify the operation of the Convention between them, provided that such agreements are
notified to other States Parties, do not affect the rights of other States, and are in keeping with
the object and purpose of the Convention:
3.

Two or more States Parties may conclude agreements modifying or suspending the
operation of provisions of this Convention, applicable solely to the relations between
them, provided that such agreements do not relate to a provision derogation from
which is incompatible with the effective execution of the object and purpose of this
Convention, and provided further that such agreements shall not affect the
application of the basic principles embodied herein, and that the provisions of such

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agreements do not affect the enjoyment by other States Parties of their rights or the
performance of their obligations under this Convention.
4.

States Parties intending to conclude an agreement referred to in paragraph 3 shall
notify the other States Parties through the depositary of this Convention of their
intention to conclude the agreement and of the modification or suspension for which
it provides.

Similarly, the subsequent practice of the States parties may bear on the interpretation of a treaty
pursuant to Article 31 of the Vienna Convention, or a new rule of customary international law
may emerge to modify the provisions of a treaty. International law is not static.
275. The Tribunal does not consider it necessary here to address in general whether and under which
conditions the Convention may be modified by State practice.259 It is sufficient to say that a
unilateral act alone is not sufficient. Such a claim would require the same elements discussed
above with respect to historic rights: the assertion by a State of a right at variance with the
Convention, acquiescence therein by the other States Parties, and the passage of sufficient time
to establish beyond doubt the existence of both the right and a general acquiescence. Here,
however, there is no basis for such a claim. Since the adoption of the Convention, historic
rights were mentioned in China’s Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf Act,260 but
without anything that would enable another State to know the nature or extent of the rights
claimed. The extent of the rights asserted within the ‘nine-dash line’ only became clear with
China’s Notes Verbales of May 2009. Since that date, China’s claims have been clearly
objected to by other States. In the Tribunal’s view, there is no acquiescence.
(d)

Conclusion

276. The Philippines’ Submissions No. 1 and 2 are linked and represent two aspects of one dispute
concerning the source of maritime rights and entitlements in the South China Sea.
277. With respect to Submission No. 1, for the reasons set out above, the Tribunal concludes that, as
between the Philippines and China, the Convention defines the scope of maritime entitlements
in the South China Sea, which may not extend beyond the limits imposed therein.

259

The Tribunal will address the role of State practice in the interpretation of the Convention, in accordance
with Article 31 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, in relation to the interpretation of
Article 121 of the Convention. See paragraphs 552 to 553 below.

260

People’s Republic of China, Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf Act (26 June 1998),
available at <www.npc.gov.cn/englishnpc/Law/2007-12/11/content_1383573.htm> also available at
<www.un.org/depts/los/legislationandtreaties/pdffiles/chn_1998_eez_act.pdf>.

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278. With respect to Submission No. 2, for the reasons set out above, the Tribunal concludes that, as
between the Philippines and China, China’s claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or
jurisdiction, with respect to the maritime areas of the South China Sea encompassed by the
relevant part of the ‘nine-dash line’ are contrary to the Convention and without lawful effect to
the extent that they exceed the geographic and substantive limits of China’s maritime
entitlements under the Convention. The Tribunal concludes that the Convention superseded any
historic rights or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction in excess of the limits imposed therein.

*

*

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VI.

THE STATUS OF FEATURES IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA (SUBMISSIONS
NO. 3 TO 7)

A.

INTRODUCTION

279. In this Chapter, the Tribunal assesses the status of certain maritime features and the entitlements
to maritime zones that they are capable of generating for the purposes of the Convention.
280. In the terminology of the Convention, a feature that is exposed at low tide but covered with
water at high tide is referred to as a ‘low-tide elevation’. Features that are above water at high
tide are referred to generically as ‘islands’. However, the entitlements that an island can
generate to maritime zones will depend upon the application of Article 121(3) of the
Convention and whether the island has the capacity to “sustain human habitation or economic
life of [its] own.” Throughout this Chapter, the Tribunal will refer to the generic category of
features that meet the definition of an island in Article 121(1) as ‘high-tide features’. The
Tribunal will use the term ‘rocks’ for high-tide features that “cannot sustain human habitation or
economic life of their own” and which therefore, pursuant to Article 121(3), are disqualified
from generating an exclusive economic zone or continental shelf. For high-tide features which
are not rocks, and which pursuant to Article 121(2) enjoy the same entitlements as other land
territory under the Convention, the Tribunal will use the term ‘fully entitled islands’. ‘Rocks’
and ‘fully entitled islands’ are thus both sub-sets of the broader category of ‘high-tide features’.
Finally, the Tribunal will refer to features that are fully submerged, even at low tide, as
‘submerged features’.
B.

THE STATUS OF FEATURES AS ABOVE/BELOW WATER AT HIGH TIDE (SUBMISSIONS
NO. 4 AND 6)
1.

Introduction

281. In this Section, the Tribunal addresses the Parties’ dispute concerning the status of the maritime
features and the source of maritime entitlements in the South China Sea. This dispute is
reflected in the Philippines’ Submissions No. 4 and 6, which request the Tribunal to hold that
certain specified features are low-tide elevations and do not generate any independent
entitlement to maritime zones. Submissions No. 4 and 6 provide as follows:
(4)

Mischief Reef, Second Thomas Shoal and Subi Reef are low-tide elevations that do
not generate entitlement to a territorial sea, exclusive economic zone or continental
shelf, and are not features that are capable of appropriation by occupation or
otherwise;

...

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(6)

Gaven Reef and McKennan Reef (including Hughes Reef) are low-tide elevations
that do not generate entitlement to a territorial sea, exclusive economic zone or
continental shelf, but their low-water line may be used to determine the baseline
from which the breadth of the territorial sea of Namyit and Sin Cowe, respectively,
is measured;

282. The question of whether features are above or below water at high tide is also implicated by the
Philippines’ Submissions No. 3 and 7, which are predicated on the Philippines’ view that
Scarborough Shoal, Johnson Reef, Cuarteron Reef, and Fiery Cross Reef are high-tide features
with rocks that remain above water at high tide. For the sake of completeness, and in keeping
with its duty under Article 9 of Annex VII to the Convention to satisfy itself that the
Philippines’ Submissions are well founded in fact, the Tribunal will examine the status, as
above or below water at high tide, of all ten features identified in the Philippines’ Submissions.
283. In its Award on Jurisdiction, the Tribunal held that these Submissions reflect a dispute
concerning the status of maritime features in the South China Sea and not a dispute concerning
sovereignty over such features. The Tribunal also held that this is not a dispute concerning sea
boundary delimitation, insofar as “the status of a feature as a ‘low-tide elevation’, ‘island’, or a
‘rock’ relates to the entitlement to maritime zones generated by that feature, not to the
delimitation of such entitlements in the event that they overlap.” 261 The Tribunal noted,
however, that the possible existence of overlapping entitlements to an exclusive economic zone
or continental shelf could have “practical considerations for the selection of the vertical datum
and tidal model against which the status of the features is to be assessed.”262
2.

Factual Background

284. Scarborough Shoal is known as “Huangyan Dao” (黄岩岛) in China and “Panatag Shoal” or
“Bajo de Masinloc” in the Philippines and is a coral reef located at 15° 09′ 16″ N, 117° 45′ 58″ E.
Scarborough Shoal is 116.2 nautical miles from the archipelagic baseline of the Philippine
island of Luzon and 448.2 nautical miles from China’s baseline point 29 (Jiapengliedao) near
Hong Kong.263 The general location of Scarborough Shoal is depicted in Map 2 on page 123
below.

261

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 401, 403.

262

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 401, 403.

263

All calculations use geographic coordinates expressed in terms of the World Geodetic System (WGS84),
and distance measurement is along the geodesic between two points. Geodetic calculations were done
using Vincenty’s inverse solution. See T. Vincenty, “Direct and Inverse Solutions on the Ellipsoid with
Application of Nested Equations,” Survey Review, Vol. 23, No. 176, p. 88 (1975).

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285. Cuarteron Reef is known as “Huayang Jiao” (华阳礁) in China and “Calderon Reef” in the
Philippines. It is a coral reef located at 08° 51′ 41″ N, 112° 50′ 08″ E and is the easternmost of
four maritime features known collectively as the London Reefs that are located on the western
edge of the Spratly Islands. Cuarteron Reef is 245.3 nautical miles from the archipelagic
baseline of the Philippine island of Palawan and 585.3 nautical miles from China’s baseline
point 39 (Dongzhou (2)) adjacent to the island of Hainan. The general location of Cuarteron
Reef, along with the other maritime features in the Spratly Islands, is depicted in Map 3 on
page 125 below.
286. Fiery Cross Reef is known as “Yongshu Jiao” (永暑礁) in China and “Kagitingan Reef” in the
Philippines. It is a coral reef located at 09° 33′ 00″ N, 112° 53′ 25″ E, to the north of Cuarteron
Reef and along the western edge of the Spratly Islands, adjacent to the main shipping routes
through the South China Sea. Fiery Cross Reef is 254.2 nautical miles from the archipelagic
baseline of the Philippine island of Palawan and 547.7 nautical miles from the China’s baseline
point 39 (Dongzhou (2)) adjacent to the island of Hainan.
287. Johnson Reef, McKennan Reef, and Hughes Reef are all coral reefs that form part of the larger
reef formation in the centre of the Spratly Islands known as Union Bank. Union Bank also
includes the high-tide feature of Sin Cowe Island. Johnson Reef (also known as Johnson South
Reef) is known as “Chigua Jiao” (赤瓜礁) in China and “Mabini Reef” in the Philippines. It is
located at 9° 43′ 00″ N, 114° 16′ 55″ E and is 184.7 nautical miles from the archipelagic
baseline of the Philippine island of Palawan and 570.8 nautical miles from China’s baseline
point 39 (Dongzhou (2)) adjacent to Hainan.

Although the Philippines has referred to

“McKennan Reef (including Hughes Reef)” in its Submissions, the Tribunal notes that
McKennan Reef and Hughes Reef are distinct features, albeit adjacent to one another, and
considers it preferable, for the sake of clarity, to address them separately. McKennan Reef is
known as “Ximen Jiao” (西门礁) in China and, with Hughes Reef, is known collectively as
“Chigua Reef” in the Philippines. It is located at 09° 54′ 13″ N, 114° 27′ 53″ E and is
181.3 nautical miles from the archipelagic baseline of the Philippine island of Palawan and
566.8 nautical miles from China’s baseline point 39 (Dongzhou (2)) adjacent to Hainan.
Hughes Reef is known as “Dongmen Jiao” (东门礁) in China and, with McKennan Reef, is
known collectively as “Chigua Reef” in the Philippines.

It is located at 09° 54′ 48″

N 114°29′ 48″ E and is 180.3 nautical miles from the archipelagic baseline of the Philippine
island of Palawan and 567.2 nautical miles from China’s baseline point 39 (Dongzhou (2))
adjacent to Hainan.

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288. The Gaven Reefs are known as “Nanxun Jiao” ( 南 薰 礁 ) in China and “Burgos” in the
Philippines. They constitute a pair of coral reefs that forms part of the larger reef formation
known as Tizard Bank, located directly to the north of Union Bank. Tizard Bank also includes
the high-tide features of Itu Aba Island, Namyit Island, and Sand Cay. Gaven Reef (North) is
located at 10° 12′ 27″ N, 114° 13′ 21″ E and is 203.0 nautical miles from the archipelagic
baseline of the Philippine island of Palawan and 544.1 nautical miles from China’s baseline
point 39 (Dongzhou (2)) adjacent to Hainan. Gaven Reef (South) is located at 10° 09′ 42″ N
114° 15′ 09″ E and is 200.5 nautical miles from the archipelagic baseline of the Philippine
island of Palawan and 547.4 nautical miles from China’s baseline point 39 (Dongzhou (2))
adjacent to Hainan.
289. Subi Reef is known as “Zhubi Jiao” (渚碧礁) in China and “Zamora Reef” in the Philippines. It
is a coral reef located to the north of Tizard Bank and a short distance to the south-west of the
high-tide feature of Thitu Island and its surrounding Thitu Reefs. Subi Reef is located at 10° 55′
22″ N, 114° 05′ 04″ E and lies on the north-western edge of the Spratly Islands. Subi Reef is
231.9 nautical miles from the archipelagic baseline of the Philippine island of Palawan and
502.2 nautical miles from China’s baseline point 39 (Dongzhou (2)) adjacent to Hainan.
290. Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal are both coral reefs located in the centre of the Spratly
Islands, to the east of Union Bank and to the south-east of Tizard Bank. Mischief Reef is
known as “Meiji Jiao” (美济礁) in China and “Panganiban” in the Philippines. It is located at
09° 54′ 17″ N, 115° 31′ 59″ E and is 125.4 nautical miles from the archipelagic baseline of the
Philippine island of Palawan and 598.1 nautical miles from China’s baseline point 39
(Dongzhou (2)) adjacent to Hainan. Second Thomas Shoal is known as “Ren’ai Jiao” (仁爱礁)
in China and “Ayungin Shoal” in the Philippines. It is located at 09° 54′ 17″ N, 115° 51′ 49″ E
and is 104.0 nautical miles from the archipelagic baseline of the Philippine island of Palawan
and 616.2 nautical miles from China’s baseline point 39 (Dongzhou (2)) adjacent to Hainan.
3.

The Philippines’ Position

291. The Philippines recalls that low-tide elevations are defined and governed by Article 13 of the
Convention.264 “[L]ow-tide elevations are not land territory,” the Philippines emphasises, and
“no measure of occupation or control can establish sovereignty over such features.” 265
According to the Philippines, low-tide elevations can be divided into three categories:
264

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp. 19-20.

265

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 20.

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115°E

120°E

CHINA

Taiwan

Pratas
Reef

Pratas I.

20°N

20°N

SOUTH
CHINA
SEA

Paracel
Islands

THE
PHILIPPINES

Macclesfield
Bank
(submerged)

Luzon
15°N

15°N

Scarborough
Shoal

Mindoro

Legend
Coral Reef (shallow/uncovering)
Reed
Bank

Coral Reef (submerged)
115°E

120°E

THE SOUTH CHINA SEA:
NORTHERN AREA

Map 2

Nautical Miles
100

50

0

100

200

Kilometers
100

Projection / Datum:
Mercator / WGS84

Coral Reef data from ‘Global Distribution of Coral Reefs’
UNEP-WCMC, WorldFish Centre, WRI
and TNC (The Nature Conservancy) (2010).
http://datadownload.unep-wcmc.org/requests/new?dataset=WCMC008_CoralReef2010_v1_3

50
0
100
200
Nominal Scale at Latitude 15°N - 1:8,285,000

This map is for illustrative purposes only.

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124

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115°E

North Danger
Reef
Northeast Cay
Southwest Cay

SOUTH
CHINA
SEA

Reed
Bank

Thitu
Reefs
Subi
Reef

West
York I.

Thitu I.
Flat I.

Loaita Bank
Loaita I.

Sin Cowe I.
Fiery Cross
Reef

Johnson
Reef

Sand Cay
Tizard
Bank
Namyit I. Hughes
Reef
Union
Bank

Mischief
Reef

10°N

10°N

Gaven
Reefs

Second
Thomas
Shoal

McKennan
Reef

an

Itu Aba I.

Nanshan I.

Lankiam
Cay

Pa
la
w

Spratly
Islands

THE
PHILIPPINES

Cuarteron
Reef
Spratly I.

London
Reefs

Amboyna
Cay
Swallow
Reef

5°N

5°N

Borneo

BRUNEI

Legend
Coral Reef (shallow/uncovering)

MALAYSIA

INDONESIA

Coral Reef (submerged)
115°E

THE SOUTH CHINA SEA:
SOUTHERN AREA

Map 3

Nautical Miles
100

50

0

100

200

Kilometers
100

50
0
100
Nominal Scale at Latitude 10°N - 1:6,147,000

Projection / Datum:
Mercator / WGS84

Coral Reef data from ‘Global Distribution of Coral Reefs’
UNEP-WCMC, WorldFish Centre, WRI
and TNC (The Nature Conservancy) (2010).
http://datadownload.unep-wcmc.org/requests/new?dataset=WCMC008_CoralReef2010_v1_3

200

This map is for illustrative purposes only.

125

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The South China Sea Arbitration
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(a)

“[W]here a low-tide elevation is located within 12 miles of a high-tide feature,
sovereignty over the low-tide elevation rests with the State by reason of the sovereignty it
has over the high-tide feature.”266

(b)

Where “low-tide elevations . . . lie wholly beyond 12 miles, but within a state’s exclusive
economic zone or continental shelf . . . , the coastal state enjoys exclusive sovereign
rights and jurisdiction with regard to the low-tide elevation in accordance and within the
limits of the regime provided for in Articles 56(3) and 77 of the 1982 Convention.”267

(c)

And where a low-tide elevation would be located “at an even greater distance, beyond
areas of national jurisdiction. In such cases, it is part of the deep seabed and subject to
Part XI of the Convention, and no state can purport to exercise sovereignty or any
sovereign rights over or in respect of it.”268

The Philippines also notes that, pursuant to Article 13(1), there is a distinction between low-tide
elevations falling wholly or partially within the territorial sea of a high-tide feature, which may
serve as part of the baseline for the territorial sea of that high-tide feature, and low-tide
elevations located beyond the territorial sea, which “have no capacity to generate claims to
maritime jurisdiction.”269
292. The Philippines submits that each of the five maritime features mentioned in its Submissions
No. 4 and 6 is a low-tide elevation:

Second Thomas Shoal, Mischief Reef, Subi Reef,

“McKennan Reef including Hughes Reef” (which the Philippines treats as single feature), and
the Gaven Reefs. The Philippines distinguishes between them, however, and considers that
Second Thomas Shoal, Mischief Reef, and Subi Reef lie beyond 12 nautical miles from any
high-tide feature. In contrast, the Philippines considers that the Gaven Reefs lie within the
12-nautical-mile territorial sea of Namyit Island and that McKennan Reef lies within the
12-nautical-mile territorial sea of Sin Cowe Island, such that both low-tide elevations can be
used to extend the baseline of the territorial sea of the high-tide features.270
293. The Philippines supports its conclusions with two types of satellite imagery.

First, the

Philippines has provided the Tribunal with what it describes as “multi-band Landsat satellite

266

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 21.

267

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 21.

268

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp. 21-22.

269

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp. 22-23.

270

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 23.

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photographs of each of the five low-tide features.”271 According to the Philippines, this imagery
was prepared as follows:
Two sets of images were produced from different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum
resulting in varying wavelengths. The band 1 images correspond to a shorter wavelength of
between 0.45 and 0.52 micrometres, and these can penetrate water. The band 4 images
correspond to a longer wavelength of between 0.76 and 0.90 micrometres, which are almost
entirely absorbed by water. A band 4 image can therefore only show features that are
above water.272

The Philippines submits that Landsat imagery of each of the five features confirms that none is
above water at high tide.273
294. Second, the Philippines has provided the Tribunal with satellite imagery analysis prepared by
the EOMAP company that depicts the five features bathymetrically at what EOMAP calculates
to be Lowest Astronomic Tide, Highest Astronomic Tide, and Mean High Water. 274 The
Philippines submits that EOMAP’s analysis likewise confirms that all five features are below
water at high tide.275
295. In addition to satellite analysis, the Philippines relies on what it considers to be the consistent
depiction of all five features as low-tide elevations in all published charts and on the
corresponding descriptions of the features as submerged at high tide in sailing directions and
pilots. The Philippines summarises its conclusions on the available evidence as follows:
We have collected all the available charts and other evidence we can find. The satellite
imagery, including the EOMAP analysis of each of the features, consistently, completely
and without the slightest ambiguity demonstrates that all five features are covered by water
at high tide. This is simply not an issue and cannot reasonably be disputed.
The charts produced by all the relevant charting agencies—including the Philippines,
China, Malaysia, Vietnam, the United Kingdom and the United States—agree that all five
features are low-tide elevations. All of the evidence, including the satellite imagery and
the Sailing Directions set out in the Atlas, is remarkably—and, we say, gloriously—
consistent in its depiction of the features as low-tide elevations.276

296. During the hearing, the Philippines was questioned by the Tribunal regarding the depiction of
the Gaven Reefs in U.S. Defense Mapping Agency Chart No. 93043 (Tizard Bank South China

271

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 25.

272

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 25.

273

Memorial, Figures 5.6, 5.8, 5.10, 5.12.

274

EOMAP GmbH & Co, Satellite Derived Bathymetry for Selected Features in the South China Sea
(18 November 2015) (Annex 807).

275

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp. 26-32.

276

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 25.

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Sea)277 and the description of the feature in the U.S. Sailing Directions (Enroute), South China
Sea and the Gulf of Thailand.278 The Philippines responded as follows:
Taking the U.S. Sailing Directions first, the relevant passage is on your screens. It is true
that there is a reference to a white sand dune, and the third sentence says that it is 2 metres
high. But the Sailing Directions does not say that the sand dune is “above water at high
tide”; in fact, it says the opposite. The first sentence states without ambiguity that both
reefs are covered by water at high tide. The white sand dune mentioned in the third
sentence is properly read as a reference to its situation at less than high water.
Both the Philippines and Chinese Sailing Directions support this interpretation. The
Philippine Coast Pilot explains that Gaven Reefs “cover at [high water]”, and the Chinese
Sailing Directions states explicitly that, “these rocks are all submerged by seawater”. And
these are the words, we say, that dominate.
I turn to US chart no. 93043, referred to in the Tribunal’s question. You can see it on your
screens. You can now see the datum for the chart; it is highlighted. This is based on a
Japanese survey undertaken in 1936 and 1937. As to the heights—this is significant—these
are expressed in “metres above mean sea level”. Mean sea level is not the same as high
tide; it is a lower level. It cannot therefore be concluded on the basis of this chart—an old
chart of about 80 years of age—that any part of Gaven Reef is above water at high tide. 279

The Philippines also emphasised that the EOMAP imagery of the Gaven Reefs gives no
indication of a high-tide feature.280
297. During the hearing, the Philippines’ expert was also questioned by the Tribunal as to whether or
not Subi Reef lies within 12 nautical miles of a high-tide feature on the reefs to the west of
Thitu Island. In response, the Philippines submitted additional analysis from EOMAP and the
following conclusion:
Both the U.S. and UK Sailing Directions indicate that a sand cay lies on one of the reefs
approximately 3.5 nautical miles from Thitu. However, U.S. chart NGA 93044 (2nd ed.
5/84) has removed the indication of a cay that had been present on the previous U.S. chart
of the area, NGA 93061B (4th ed. revised through 9/70). Currently, only British Chart
3483 shows the presence of a tiny cay on one of these reefs. Charts published by the
Philippines, China, Vietnam, Japan and Russia give no indication of any feature above
water at high tide among these reefs.
When the satellite imagery used in the EOMap analysis was taken, the tidal level was
determined (by EOMap) to be 71 cm below Mean High Water. Even at that relatively low
tidal level, the two westernmost reefs were completely submerged.
On the three easternmost reefs, there are indications of tiny sand spits that had uncovered at
that tidal level. While it is likely that these sandy areas cover fully at tidal levels
approaching Mean High Water, the EOMap analysis automatically depicts them as small

277

U.S. Defense Mapping Agency Chart No. 93043 (Tizard Bank South China Sea) (Annex NC51).

278

U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Pub. 161 Sailing Directions (Enroute), South China Sea
and the Gulf of Thailand (13th ed., 2011) at p. 9 (Annex 233).

279

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), pp. 74-76.

280

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), pp. 76-77.

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white spots identified as “data flags,” because the technology employed only reads the
relative heights of features that are covered by water at the time of image capture. 281

4.

China’s Position

298. China has not, as far as the Tribunal is aware, specifically set out its position with respect to all
of the maritime features at issue in these proceedings. Indeed, the Tribunal recalls that in its
public Position Paper of 7 December 2014, China stated that:
The Philippines asserts that some of the maritime features, about which it has submitted
claims for arbitration, are low-tide elevations, thus being incapable of appropriation as
territory. As to whether those features are indeed low-tide elevations, this Position Paper
will not comment.282

299. The Tribunal notes, however, that the record of public statements and diplomatic
correspondence before it includes the Chinese statement that “Huangyan Dao [Scarborough
Shoal] is not a sand bank but rather an island.”283
300. The Tribunal also notes China’s statement that “China has indisputable sovereignty over
Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters, Meiji Jiao [Mischief Reef] and Yongshu Jiao [Fiery
Cross Reef] included.”284 This statement is not entirely without ambiguity, but the Tribunal
understands it to mean that China considers Mischief Reef and Fiery Cross Reef to be high-tide
features, entitled to at least a territorial sea.
301. China has also commented on the entitlements of the maritime features of the Spratly Islands
collectively, stating that “China’s Nansha Islands is fully entitled to Territorial Sea, Exclusive
Economic Zone (EEZ) and Continental Shelf.”285
302. The Tribunal recalls the statement in its Award on Jurisdiction that “a dispute is not negated by
the absence of granular exchanges with respect to each and every individual feature.”286 Where
China has not publicly stated its specific view regarding the status of a particular feature, the
281

Geographical Information on Thitu Reefs, pp. 5-8 (Annex 856).

282

China’s Position Paper, para. 24.

283

Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, Record of Proceedings: 10th Philippines–
China Foreign Ministry Consultations (30 July 1998) (Annex 184). See also Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
People’s Republic of China, Chinese Foreign Ministry Statement Regarding Huangyandao (22 May
1997) (Annex 106).

284

Note Verbale from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Manila to the Department of
Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, No. 15 (PG)-214 (28 June 2015) (Annex 689).

285

Note Verbale from the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the Secretary-General of
the United Nations, No. CML/8/2011 (14 April 2011) (Annex 201). See also Note Verbale from the
Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the Secretary-General of the United Nations,
No. CML/12/2009 (13 April 2009).

286

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 170.

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Tribunal will assess the status of the feature on the basis of the best evidence available to it,
paying particular attention to the depiction of features on nautical charts or the descriptions in
sailing directions issued by China.
5.

The Tribunal’s Considerations
(a)

The Interpretation of Article 13 and the Tribunal’s Approach to
Submissions No. 4 and 6

303. The definition and properties of low-tide elevations are set out in Article 13 of the Convention,
which provides as follows:
Article 13
Low-tide elevations
1.

A low-tide elevation is a naturally formed area of land which is surrounded by and
above water at low tide but submerged at high tide. Where a low-tide elevation is
situated wholly or partly at a distance not exceeding the breadth of the territorial sea
from the mainland or an island, the low-water line on that elevation may be used as
the baseline for measuring the breadth of the territorial sea.

2.

Where a low-tide elevation is wholly situated at a distance exceeding the breadth of
the territorial sea from the mainland or an island, it has no territorial sea of its own.

304. This definition operates in parallel with that of an island in Article 121(1) of the Convention,
which provides that “[a]n island is a naturally formed area of land, surrounded by water, which
is above water at high tide.” The latter Article will be discussed in detail subsequently in
connection with the Philippines’ Submissions No. 3, 5, and 7 (see paragraphs 473 to 553
below).
i.

Naturally Formed Areas and the Human Modification of Coral Reefs

305. With respect to low-tide elevations, several points necessarily follow from this pair of
definitions. First, the inclusion of the term “naturally formed” in the definition of both a low-tide
elevation and an island indicates that the status of a feature is to be evaluated on the basis of its
natural condition. As a matter of law, human modification cannot change the seabed into a
low-tide elevation or a low-tide elevation into an island. A low-tide elevation will remain a
low-tide elevation under the Convention, regardless of the scale of the island or installation built
atop it.
306. This point raises particular considerations in the present case. Many of the features in the South
China Sea have been subjected to substantial human modification as large islands with
installations and airstrips have been constructed on top of the coral reefs. In some cases, it
would likely no longer be possible to directly observe the original status of the feature, as the
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The South China Sea Arbitration
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contours of the reef platform have been entirely buried by millions of tons of landfill and
concrete. In such circumstances, the Tribunal considers that the Convention requires that the
status of a feature be ascertained on the basis of its earlier, natural condition, prior to the onset
of significant human modification. The Tribunal will therefore reach its decision on the basis of
the best available evidence of the previous status of what are now heavily modified coral reefs.
ii.

The Status and Entitlements of Low-Tide Elevations

307. The Philippines’ Submissions request the Tribunal to declare that those features which qualify
as low-tide elevations under Article 13 are not entitled to maritime zones and are not capable of
appropriation or occupation. These Submissions thus raise the question of the status and
entitlements of low-tide elevations.
308. Article 13(2) states that, except where a low-tide elevation falls within the breadth of a
territorial sea generated from a high-tide feature or mainland, it generates no territorial sea of its
own. Article 13(2) does not expressly state that a low-tide elevation is not entitled to an
exclusive economic zone or continental shelf. Nevertheless the Tribunal considers that this
restriction is necessarily implied in the Convention. It follows automatically from the operation
of Articles 57 and 76, which measure the breadth of the exclusive economic zone and
continental shelf from the baseline for the territorial sea. Ipso facto, if a low-tide elevation is
not entitled to a territorial sea, it is not entitled to an exclusive economic zone or continental
shelf. The same restriction follows implicitly from Article 121(3), which provides that even
certain high-tide features are deemed to be rocks that are ineligible to generate an exclusive
economic zone or continental shelf.
309. With respect to the status of low-tide elevations, the Tribunal considers that notwithstanding the
use of the term “land” in the physical description of a low-tide elevation, such low-tide
elevations do not form part of the land territory of a State in the legal sense. Rather they form
part of the submerged landmass of the State and fall within the legal regimes for the territorial
sea or continental shelf, as the case may be. Accordingly, and as distinct from land territory, the
Tribunal subscribes to the view that “low-tide elevations cannot be appropriated, although ‘a
coastal State has sovereignty over low-tide elevations which are situated within its territorial
sea, since it has sovereignty over the territorial sea itself’.”287

287

Territorial and Maritime Dispute (Nicaragua v. Colombia), Judgment, ICJ Reports 2012, p. 624 at
p. 641, para. 26.

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iii.

Vertical Datum and the Meaning of “High Tide” in Articles 13 and 121

310. A further consideration is posed by the use of the term “high tide” in the definition of both a
low-tide elevation and an island. “High tide” is not a technical term and is potentially subject to
a number of different technical interpretations, corresponding with different measurements and
water levels. Common datums for measuring high water include Mean High Water (the average
height of all high waters at a place over a 19-year period), Mean Higher High Water (the
average height of higher high water at a place over a 19-year period), and Mean High Water
Springs (the average height of the high waters of spring tides). 288

The International

Hydrographic Organization (the “IHO”) recommends that a high-water datum be used as the
reference datum for heights depicted on nautical charts, but makes no recommendation as
between the possibilities.289 The IHO specifically recommends that Highest Astronomic Tide
(the highest tidal level which can be predicted to occur under average meteorological conditions
and under any combination of astronomical conditions) be used as the datum for vertical
clearances (i.e., bridges), but only for this purpose.290
311. The Tribunal sees nothing in the Convention, and no rule of customary international law, that
would mandate that the status of low-tide elevations and high-tide features/islands be
determined against any particular high-water datum. Accordingly, the Tribunal considers that
States are free under the Convention to claim a high-tide feature or island on the basis of any
high-water datum that reasonably corresponds to the ordinary meaning of the term “high tide”
in Articles 13 and 121. Ordinarily, this would also be the height datum for nautical charts
published by that State, above which rocks would be depicted as not covering at high tide.
312. In the present case, the situation is complicated by the fact that the features in question are
claimed by multiple States and may or may not lie within one or another State’s exclusive
economic zone and continental shelf. The Tribunal questioned the Philippines on the issue of
vertical datum at several points during the proceedings, and the Philippines responded as follows:
There is no requirement under the Convention to have regard to any particular charts to
determine the status of a feature; and in any event, in this case all the charts point in the
same direction. And we have made clear that the Philippines has no objection to this Tribunal

288

International Hydrographic Organization, Hydrographic Dictionary, p. 144 (5th ed., 1994).

289

International Hydrographic Organization, Chart Specifications of the IHO: Medium and Large-scale
Charts, Section B-300, p. 4 (2013) available at <www.iho.int/iho_pubs/standard/S-4/S-4_e4.4.0
_EN_Sep13.pdf >.

290

International Hydrographic Organization, Chart Specifications of the IHO: Medium and Large-scale
Charts, Section B-300, p. 4 (2013) available at <www.iho.int/iho_pubs/standard/S-4/S-4_e4.4.0
_EN_Sep13.pdf >.

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placing reliance upon the Chinese charts which we have referred to in our written
pleadings.291

The Philippines’ elaboration of this answer, however, appeared to be focused on the low-water
datum on various charts,292 against which soundings and baselines would be measured, whereas
the determination of the status of a feature would necessarily be measured against a high-water
datum.
313. Height datum on modern charts produced by the Philippines is Mean High Water. 293 In
contrast, the height datum on modern Chinese charts is China’s 1985 National Vertical Datum,
which corresponds to Mean Sea Level in the Yellow Sea as observed at Qingdao.294 Mean sea
level is not a high-water datum, and this therefore offers no assistance in determining the
appropriate datum for “high tide” for the purposes of Articles 13 and 121. However, the legend
to the symbology for standard Chinese cartography indicates that Chinese charts will depict a
rock or islet as one which does not cover if it exceeds the level of Mean High Water Springs. 295
Several of the Chinese charts in the record before the Tribunal also include tidal information
and reference “high tide” as Mean Higher High Water.296 The Tribunal considers that either
Mean Higher High Water or Mean High Water Springs would be an appropriate approximation
of “high tide” if determined on the basis of Chinese nautical charts. The Tribunal is also aware
of certain statements in the record before it to the effect that the tidal regime in the South China
Sea is complex and unpredictable. The Tribunal will address this issue in the following Section
(see paragraphs 314 to 319 below). Ultimately, however, the tidal range in the South China Sea
is comparatively small and the selection of a vertical datum will, in most instances, make no
difference regarding the status of a feature. The Tribunal need consider this issue further only if

291

Jurisdictional Hearing Tr. (Day 1), p. 85.

292

Written Responses of the Philippines to the Tribunal’s 13 July 2015 Questions, pp. 23-30 (23 July 2015)
(hereinafter “Written Responses of the Philippines (23 July 2015)”).

293

See, e.g., Chart No. 4803 (Scarborough Shoal) (2006) (Annex NC32); Chart No. 4723 (Kalayaan Island
Group) (2008) (Annex NC33).

294

See Letter from the State Council of China to the National Mapping Bureau, 16 May 1987, available at
<www.gov.cn/xxgk/pub/govpublic/mrlm/201103/t20110330_63783.html>; National Bureau of Surveying
and Mapping, “State Height” available at <www.sbsm.gov.cn/zszygx/hzzs/chkp/ddcl/201001/
t20100115_83615.shtml>.

295

Navigation Guarantee Department of the Chinese Navy Headquarters, Symbols Identifying Direction
Used on Chinese Charts (2006) (Annex 231).

296

See Navigation Guarantee Department of the Chinese Navy Headquarters, Chart No. 18400 (Zhenghe
Qunjiao to Yongshu Jiao) (2005) (Annex NC17); Navigation Guarantee Department of the Chinese Navy
Headquarters, Chart No. 18600 (Yinqing Qunjiao to Nanwei Tan) (2012) (Annex NC24); Navigation
Guarantee Department of the Chinese Navy Headquarters, Chart No. 18100 (Shuangzi Qunjiao to
Zhenghe Quojiao) (2013) (Annex NC25); Navigation Guarantee Department of the Chinese Navy
Headquarters, Chart No. 18300 (Yongshu Jiao to Yinqing Qunjiao) (2013) (Annex NC27).

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it appears that a feature is near enough to high water that its status would differ as a result of the
datum used.
iv.

Tidal Patterns and Ranges in the Spratly Islands

314. Tides in the South China Sea raise a further consideration: namely, whether the Tribunal has
sufficient information to accurately understand tidal patterns in the South China Sea and their
effect on the various features at issue in the proceedings. The Tribunal notes that the Royal
Navy carried out tidal measurements at Spratly Island in 1864297 and at North Danger Reef in
1926,298 in both instances with a series of direct observations that appear long enough to cover
at least a fortnight within the lunar cycle. Tidal ranges299 from these observations are reported
in the sailing directions300 and appear on the 1864 fair chart of Spratly Island301 and on the 1926
fair chart of North Danger Reef.302 They indicate a spring tide range of 5¼ feet (1.6 metres) at
Spratly Island and a range between Higher High Water and Lower Low Water of 3 feet
(0.91 metres).303 Royal Navy Fleet Charts issued through 1966304 also indicate the tidal range
for North Danger Reef with a range between Higher High Water and Lower Low Water of
2.7 feet (0.82 metres) and range for spring tides of 4.6 feet (1.40 metres).
315. The Chinese charts in the record also record tidal ranges, taken at the Gaven Reefs, Hughes
Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Cuarteron Reef, and Subi Reef. These locations all correspond with
current Chinese installations, suggesting that the results are based upon in-person observations
over a period of time and may be considered reliable. This Chinese tidal data indicate that mean
tidal ranges are quite consistent across the different features in the South China Sea, although
some differences in tidal intervals are apparent. Chinese tidal data also provide greater detail on

297

See Letter from Commander Ward, HMS Rifleman, to the Hydrographer of the Admiralty (29 July 1864).

298

HMS Iroquois, Sailing Directions to accompany Chart of North Danger Reef.

299

In tide terminology, the amplitude is the semi-range of the harmonic constituent. See International
Hydrographic Office, Hydrographic Dictionary, Part I, Vol. I, at p. 11 (5 th ed., 1994). The tidal range is
the difference in height between high tide and low tide. The tidal amplitude is the difference in height
between high tide (or low tide) and the level of mean tide. In other words, the amplitude is half the tidal
range.

300

Admiralty Hydrographic Office, China Sea Directory, Vol. II, p. 71 (1st ed., 1868); Admiralty
Hydrographic Department, China Sea Pilot, Vol. I, p. 120 (1st ed., 1937).

301

Survey fair chart of Spratly Island and Amboyna Cay, UKHO Ref. D7446 (1864).

302

Survey fair chart of North Danger Reef, UKHO Ref. E1207 (1926).

303

The fair chart indicates that the mean rise of Higher High Water is 5 feet, but references soundings to a
datum 3.5 feet below mean tide level. Accordingly, the amplitude between Higher High Water and
Lower Low Water would be 3 feet.

304

See, e.g., Royal Navy Fleet Chart F6064: Reefs in South China Sea (Northern Portion) (1966).

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the effect of changes in lunar declination and indicates a range between Higher High Water and
Lower Low Water of 0.5 metres (1.64 feet) with minimal lunar declination, increasing to 1.2
metres (3.94 feet) at maximum declination. Tidal data on pre-war Japanese charts of North
Danger Reef and Tizard Bank are also available,305 indicating a maximum tidal range between
Higher High Water and Lower Low Water of 1.6 metres at North Danger Reef and 1.8 metres at
Itu Aba.
316. The Tribunal notes that the British and Chinese data on tidal ranges are remarkably consistent
and that the British range between Higher High Water and Lower Low Water of 0.82 metres
nearly matches the average of 0.85 metres of the higher and lower Chinese calculations. Taken
as a whole, the Tribunal is comfortable with the conclusion that the average range between
Higher High Water and Lower Low Water for tides in the Spratlys is on the order of 0.85
metres, increasing to 1.2 metres during certain periods of the year. The slightly higher ranges
indicated from Japanese surveys may be an outlier and can be viewed as an outer limit on the
expected tidal range. These are not particularly large tidal ranges, and the differences between
different possible high-water datums would be correspondingly small.
317. The Tribunal takes note of the statement in the Schofield Report that “defining tidal levels is
likely to be technically challenging in the context of the complex tidal regime of the South
China Sea which is variable spatially and temporally and which has not been subject to detailed
hydrographic surveys in recent times.” 306 In this respect, the Tribunal considers that any
complexity with respect to tides concerns the South China Sea as a whole, in particular coastal
areas, but does not necessarily pose an issue for the Spratly Islands. The Tribunal notes that
tidal regimes tend to be much more complex and variable in shallow-water areas near to the
shore of large land masses, or in bays or straits, than in open, deep-water areas or around
305

Imperial Japanese Navy, Chart No. 521: North Danger Reef (1938); Imperial Japanese Navy, Chart
No. 521: Tizard Bank (1938).

306

C. Schofield, J.R.V. Prescott & R. van der Poll, An Appraisal of the Geographical Characteristics and
Status of Certain Insular Features in the South China Sea, p. 7 (March 2015) (Annex 513) (hereinafter
“Schofield Report”). The authority cited by the Schofield Report for this proposition further states, on
the basis of the coastal tidal data of the Philippines and Malaysia, that:
The tides in the SCS are among the most complex in the world. In addition to a varying
bathymetry, bays, gulfs and straits, the ocean circulation system in the SCS crosses the
equator. These extraordinary features result, in some locations, in a changing semi-diurnal
and diurnal pattern of the tidal cycle in the course of each year or even in the course of one
month (a moon cycle) and is not geographically homogeneous. The west side of the basin
is generally dominated by a semi-diurnal tidal cycle, whereas the east side is more mixed.
The tidal range also varies from close to nil to a predicted 2m during spring tides in the
northern part of the Spratlys.
Y. Lyons, “Prospects for Satellite Imagery of Insular Features and Surrounding Marine
Habitats in the South China Sea,” Marine Policy, Vol. 45, p. 146 at pp. 150-151 (2014).

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isolated reefs. Variability in tidal patterns along the coasts of the South China Sea does not
indicate similar variability in the central area of the Spratly Islands. The Tribunal, assisted by
its expert hydrographer, also recalls that it has before it a substantial amount of information on
historical observations of tidal ranges in the Spratly Islands that is remarkably consistent and
includes recent tidal observations from the modern Chinese charts, which are consistent with the
tidal ranges reported historically.
318. The Tribunal thus considers that it has sufficient evidence to closely estimate the average tidal
range at features in the Spratly Islands. The Tribunal also notes that the Royal Navy of the
United Kingdom, Japanese Navy, and Chinese Navy all appear to have had a thorough
understanding of tides in the Spratly Islands, such that direct observations on features from such
sources can be assumed to have been based on an accurate understanding of the tidal conditions
at the time the observations were made. This would be particularly true in the case of direct
observations made in the course of a survey, where the officers in question would have been
present in the area of a feature for days or weeks at a time. Recalling the caveat to its decision
with respect to its jurisdiction over Submissions No. 4 and 6, the Tribunal does not consider that
“practical considerations for the selection of the vertical datum and tidal model against which
the status of the features is to be assessed”307 pose a hurdle to the assessment of the status of
features identified in the Philippines’ Submissions.
319. At the same time, although the Tribunal is comfortable that it has a sufficient understanding of
the average tidal range in the Spratly Islands and that this would suffice for interpreting charts
or survey data, the Tribunal is not convinced that it is feasible accurately to model the pattern
and timing of tides in the Spratly Islands. The Tribunal notes that Chinese tidal data indicate
greater variation in the tidal intervals across different features than it does with respect to
ranges. The Tribunal thus does not believe that it is feasible to predict with sufficient certainty
the exact tidal state at a particular feature at any precise point in time. This conclusion will have
implications for the Tribunal’s views (discussed below) on the utility of satellite imagery.
(b)

Evidence on the Status of Features as Above/Below Water at High Tide

320. Before turning to the examination of particular features, the Tribunal considers it appropriate to
address certain issues concerning the available evidence on the status of features.
321. As a general matter, the most accurate determination of whether a particular feature is or is not
above water at high tide would be based on a combination of methods, including potentially
307

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 401, 403.

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direct, in-person observation covering an extended period of time across a range of weather and
tidal conditions. Such direct observation, however, will often be impractical for remote features
or, as in the present case, impossible where human modifications have obscured the original
status of a feature or where political considerations restrict in-person observation. The Tribunal
considers it important that the absence of full information not be permitted to bar the
conclusions that reasonably can be drawn on the basis of other evidence. At the same time, the
limitations inherent in other forms of evidence must be acknowledged.
i.

Satellite Imagery

322. In attempting to overcome the absence of recent, direct observation of the features in question,
the Philippines has placed heavy reliance on remote sensing through satellite imagery. The
Tribunal agrees with the general point that satellite imagery may be a very useful tool, but
cannot accept the degree of accuracy or certainty that the Philippines would give to such
imagery. The Philippines has, for instance, relied upon a spectral analysis of imagery derived
from the Landsat 4, 5, 7, and 8 satellites.308 According to the Philippines, such a comparison of
images will establish whether any portion of a reef is above water at high tide, as the ability of
different wavelengths of light to penetrate water differs (see paragraph 293 above).309 Landsat 4
and 5, however, are satellites with a 30-metre ground resolution, meaning that each pixel of the
image is equal to a square on the ground of 30 metres on each side.310 Landsat 7 and 8 include a
panchromatic (black and white) band with a ground resolution of 15 metres, but otherwise have
the same 30-metre ground resolution for the spectral bands as the earlier Landsat 4 and 5. In the
course of the hearing, the Tribunal asked the Philippines’ expert to clarify whether the imagery
analysed included the use of the panchromatic band (sensitive to all wavelengths of visible light
and thus black and white in appearance), which would represent a commonly used process
known as pansharpening, in which a higher resolution panchromatic image is used to increase
the resolution of a colour image. The Philippines’ expert indicated that this had not been done.
Whether or not this is the case, however, the maximum resolution that could possibly be derived
from the satellite imagery used by the Philippines for this purpose is 15 metres. Small rocks or
coral boulders on a reef platform may be a metre or less across and still reach above water at
high tide. The resolution of the satellite imagery being used here is insufficient to establish the
presence or absence of such features.
308

See Schofield Report, pp. 12-13.

309

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 25.

310

The technical capabilities of the various Landsat satellites are set out in the Landsat 8 Data Users
Handbook, p. 3, available at <landsat.usgs.gov/documents/Landsat8DataUsersHandbook.pdf>.

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323. The Philippines’ expert report also makes use of higher resolution imagery from the Worldview
family of satellites, with a ground resolution of 0.46 metres (panchromatic).311 However, this
imagery was generally used for high-tide features and not for spectral analysis to detect the
coverage of low-tide elevations at high water. Such imagery may be helpful, but as with any
satellite imagery, will also suffer from the difficulty that the time of image capture will
generally not align with either high or low tide. The precise tidal conditions prevailing at the
time the image was taken can only be estimated, unless confirmed by observations on the
ground that coincide with the time the images were taken.
324. The analysis provided by the Philippines from EOMAP also suffers from inherent vertical
accuracy limitations due to the necessary reliance on predicted tidal information, as well as due
to assumptions that are made in the spectral analysis.

As an initial matter, the EOMAP

materials provide no explanation of the vertical accuracy of their image processing. As a
general matter, the Tribunal understands that Landsat satellite-derived bathymetry of this type
involves a base error of at least ± one-half metre and a further error of ± 25 percent of the water
depth. For WorldView satellites the further error is understood to be less, at ± 10 percent of the
water depth. A further difficulty with the EOMAP materials is posed by tidal conditions. The
tidal datum used by EOMAP for determining high-tide features is Highest Astronomical Tide,
which is normally used to determine clearances for vessels from bridges and other overhead
structures and not for the categorisation of features. Additionally, EOMAP has not (and could
not have) presented imagery of the features that was actually captured during the tidal
conditions represented. Rather, EOMAP has used imagery captured at a single point in time
and extrapolated the results for other tidal conditions on the basis of a model of the tidal
conditions at the time the image was captured. The accuracy of EOMAP’s presentation of any
particular tidal state is thus entirely dependent on EOMAP’s model of the tidal state on the
feature at the precise moment the image was captured. How this fundamental calculation was
obtained is nowhere explained to the Tribunal. The Tribunal accepts that it is reasonably
possible to predict the general maximum range of tides in an area on the basis of past
observations, as well as the normal interval between high and low tides. The tidal range on the
particular day that satellite images were taken, however, would necessarily be affected by
atmospheric conditions, which would add a further degree of error into the calculation.
325. A final difficulty with the use of EOMAP imagery to determine the status of features is
demonstrated by the EOMAP analysis of the Thitu Reefs, provided by the Philippines following
311

The technical capabilities of the Worldview satellites are set out in the Digital Globe Standard Imagery
Data Sheet, available at <dg-cms-uploads-production.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/document/file/21/
StandardImagery_DS_10-14_forWeb.pdf>.

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the Hearing on the Merits. According to the information provided, the imagery was captured at
a time when the tide on the Thitu Reefs was “71 cm below Mean High Water.”312 Several areas
of the Thitu Reefs were exposed at this time, but EOMAP’s imagery does not capture abovewater topographic information, and these areas appear simply as white spaces. It is impossible
to know whether these areas were barely exposed and likely to cover, or well above water at the
time the image was taken. Instead, the areas most relevant to the classification of the feature
were rejected as “data flags” from a process that is, ultimately, directed at bathymetric
conditions, rather than surface features.
326. As the Philippines correctly notes, satellite imagery is most beneficial when used in conjunction
with other evidence,313 and the Tribunal considers that satellite imagery may be able to disprove
the existence of large sand cays or features where the area in question clearly covers with water
across a series of images. Additionally, the more far-reaching conclusions advanced by the
Philippines regarding the (non-)existence of small sand cays or rocks could perhaps be
established with very high-resolution stereoscopic imagery, taken at or near high tide, with
in-person observations of tidal conditions taken at a nearby location. Absent such information,
however, the Tribunal does not believe that the majority of the conclusions it has been asked to
reach concerning the status of features as above or below water at high tide can be drawn on the
basis of satellite evidence alone.
ii.

Nautical Surveying and Sailing Directions

327. Given the impossibility of direct, contemporary observation and the limitations on what can be
achieved with remote sensing, the Tribunal considers that more convincing evidence concerning
the status of features in the South China Sea is to be found in nautical charts, records of surveys,
and sailing directions. Each of these sources, the Tribunal notes, represents a record of direct
observation of the features at a past point in time. Rocks and large coral boulders cemented to
the platform of a reef have a high degree of permanence and can reasonably be expected to
remain largely unchanged, even over centuries. Older direct observations are thus not per se
less valuable, provided they are clear in content and obtained from a reliable source. More
ephemeral features such as sand cays pose a greater challenge, but can also be consistent over
time and will often reform in the same location if dispersed by a storm.
328. The Philippines has introduced a substantial quantity of chart evidence, as well as extracts from
a large number of different pilots and sailing directions and emphasises that its conclusions are
312

Geographical Information on Thitu Reefs, p. 5 (Annex 856).

313

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), pp. 54-55.

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drawn not from any single source, but from the confirmation of consistent evidence across
multiple sources. 314 The Tribunal will address this evidence specifically in the context of
particular features, but considers several preliminary observations to be warranted.
329. As an initial matter, the Tribunal considers it more important to focus on the timing of surveys,
rather than the publication of charts. There have been many nautical charts of the South China
Sea published, but its features have only been surveyed on a few occasions. The details of these
surveys are clearly laid out in several publications in the record before the Tribunal.315 In brief,
the first survey work to focus sustained attention on the features in the South China Sea was
undertaken by the British Royal Navy between 1862 and 1868. Subsequently, both the Royal
Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy were intensively engaged in surveying the Spratly Islands
in the 1920s and 1930s, although much of this information only became public well after the
end of the Second World War. The French and American navies also engaged in survey work
in the 1930s, although to a lesser degree. More recently, the littoral States surrounding the
South China Sea have undertaken their own work, generally in the areas more closely adjacent
to their coasts.
330. The majority of the nautical charts of the South China Sea issued by different States, however,
are to a greater or lesser extent copies of one another. Often, information is incorporated or
outright copied from other, existing charts without express attribution. Where a chain of
sources can be established, even very recent charts will often trace the majority of their data to
British or Japanese surveys from the 1860s or 1930s. A more recently issued chart may, in fact,
include little or no new information regarding a particular feature. Multiple charts depicting a
feature in the same way do not, therefore, necessarily provide independent confirmation that this
depiction accords with reality.

Nor should differences between charts at different scales

necessarily be considered significant. Only a few of the nautical charts in the record are
large-scale, depicting some of the features addressed by the Philippines at a scale of 1:150,000
or less. This paucity of large-scale charting reflects the remoteness of many of the reefs, the
limited amount of detailed survey work in the area, and the lack of a need for more detailed
plans, except for military purposes. The Tribunal has identified some relevant evidence in
nautical charts up to 1:250,000 scale. Beyond this, however, the Tribunal does not consider that
small-scale charts at 1:500,000 or 1:1,000,000 offer meaningful evidence of the absence of tiny

314

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 35.

315

D. Hancox & V. Prescott, “A Geographical Description of the Spratly Islands and an Account of
Hydrographic Surveys Amongst Those Islands,” IBRU Maritime Briefing, Vol. 1, No. 6, p. 40 (1995)
(Annex 256); D. Hancox & V. Prescott, Secret Hydrographic Surveys in the Spratly Islands, pp. 154-155
(1999).

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high-tide features rising above a covering reef. This is particularly the case on recent charts
where the trend appears to be to depict less information concerning features on a reef platform
as satellite navigation decreases the need for visual orientation.
331. In light of the limitations in the chart evidence before it, the Tribunal questioned the Philippines
as to whether it had sought the original fair charts of surveys conducted on the features in the
Spratly Islands. The Philippines indicated that it considered the consistent depiction of features
in published charts to be sufficient. 316 The Tribunal disagrees and considers that, in any
sensitive determination, it will very often be beneficial to have recourse to original survey data,
prepared by individuals with direct experience and knowledge of the area in question. The
Tribunal takes note of the comments of the International Court of Justice on the probative value
of historical surveys in Nicaragua v. Colombia,317 but believes they must be understood in the
context of that case. The Convention gives important weight to published nautical charts, and
Article 5 provides for States to use the low-water line on large-scale charts as the baseline for
the territorial sea. This provision, however, envisages a situation in which a State is presenting
information concerning its own coastlines in areas that can be expected to be well surveyed and
well charted by that State. Considerations of an altogether different order arise where, as here, a
determination involves the status of remote features, subject to the demands of competing
States, that have been carefully surveyed only infrequently. The revision of charts may correct
errors or introduce new information, but publication also necessarily involves a process of
selection and intermediation that may exclude information of particular relevance. Accordingly,
the Tribunal has independently sought materials derived from British and Japanese surveys and
has provided them to the Parties for comment. Many of the Tribunal’s conclusions in this
Section are drawn from this material.
332. Finally, the Tribunal notes that sailing directions may offer an alternative source of first-hand
observations of the features in question. The record indicates that the descriptions of reefs in
the first edition of the British China Sea Directory were drafted aboard HMS Rifleman in the
course of conducting the survey.318 Later British surveys in the 1920s and 1930s also sent back
amended or supplemental descriptions for direct incorporation into the sailing directions.319 The

316

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 38.

317

Territorial and Maritime Dispute (Nicaragua v. Colombia), Judgment, ICJ Reports 2012, p. 624 at
p. 644, para. 35.

318

See Letter from Commander Reed (on convalescent leave) to the Hydrographer of the Admiralty
(26 March 1865); Letter from Commander Reed, HMS Rifleman, to the Hydrographer of the Admiralty
(19 June 1868).

319

HMS Iroquois, Sailing Directions to accompany Chart of North Danger; HMS Herald, Corrections to
Sailing Directions for Spratly Island, Amboyna Cay, and Fiery Cross Reef, UKHO Ref. H3853/1936;

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edition of a pilot following survey operations can thus be read more as a first-hand account of
the area and features, rather than simply a technical document. In contrast with the British
practice, however, the sailing directions of other States appear to be principally derived from the
British text, with the exception of the U.S. sailing directions, which appear to have been based
on Japanese information, and the Chinese sailing directions, which appear to include
independent information. As with published nautical charts, satellite navigation has also caused
the more-recent editions of the pilots to become less descriptive of the features on reefs and
correspondingly less useful to the particular determination presented to the Tribunal.
(c)

The Status of Particular Features in the South China Sea
i.

Scarborough Shoal

333. Scarborough Shoal was surveyed in detail by HMS Swallow in 1866 and by HMS Herald in
1932. The fair plans of the two surveys indicate between five and seven rocks that are clearly
marked as being between one and three feet above high water. The same rocks are depicted in
some of the published nautical charts before the Tribunal 320 and are confirmed in all of the
relevant sailing directions, 321 including the China Sailing Directions: South China Sea
published by the Navigation Guarantee Department of the Chinese Navy Headquarters, which
describes the reef as follows:
Huangyan Island (Democracy Reef) Located 340 nautical miles southerly of Yongxing
Island, it is the only atoll among these islands to be exposed above sea level. Its shape
resembles an isosceles triangle, the west side and south side are each 15 km long, and the
surface area is approximately 150 sq. km. The reef basin has a crest width of 1 km - 2 km,
and the northern part is 3.3 km at its widest part. In general, the water depth is 0.5 meters 3.5 meters. Hundreds of large reef segments are distributed along the top surface and are
0.3 meters – 3.5 meters above sea level. The North Rock on the northwest end and the
South Rock on the southeast end have a surface area of approximately 10 sq. meters. They
are respectively 1.5 meters and 1.8 meters above sea level. The water depth within the
lagoon is 10 meters – 20 meters. The east side of South Rock has a 400-meter wide
waterway, and boats can come in from the open seas to anchor.322

HMS Herald, Amendments to Sailing Directions for West York, Nanshan, Flat Island, and Mischief Reef,
UKHO Ref. H3911/1938.
320

See, e.g., Philippines Chart No. 4803 (Scarborough Shoal) (2006) (Annex NC32); British Admiralty
Chart No. 3489 (Manila to Hong Kong) (1998) (Annex NC46).

321

Philippine National Mapping and Resource Information Agency, Philippine Coast Pilot (6th ed., 1995)
(Annex 230); United States National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Pub. 161 Sailing Directions
(Enroute), South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, p. 7 (13th ed., 2011) (Annex 233); United Kingdom
Hydrographic Office, Admiralty Sailing Directions: China Sea Pilot (NP31), Vol. 2, p. 68 (10th ed., 2012)
(Annex 235).

322

Navigation Guarantee Department of the Chinese Navy Headquarters, China Sailing Directions: South
China Sea (A103), p. 172 (2011) (Annex 232(bis)).

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334. The Tribunal concludes that Scarborough Shoal is encumbered by a number of rocks that
remain exposed at high tide and is, accordingly, a high-tide feature.
ii.

Cuarteron Reef

335. Cuarteron Reef and the other London Reefs were visited by HMS Rifleman in 1864 and 1865,
but no comprehensive survey of Cuarteron Reef appears to have been undertaken, likely due to
the difficulty in finding any anchorage on the steep slopes of the feature.323 Cuarteron Reef was
visited again in 1938 by HMS Herald in the course of her secret work in the South China Sea,
and those observations were incorporated into the 1951 edition of the China Sea Pilot which
clearly reports a number of rocks above water at high tide:
Cuarteron reef, about 10 miles eastward of East reef, dries and is encumbered by rocks,
especially on its norther side, where some are from 4 to 5 feet (1 m2 to 1m5) high.
Anchorage was obtained by H.M. Surveying Ship Herald, in 1938, in a depth of about 15
fathoms (27m4), about one cable from the northern side; the southern side is steep-to. There
is no lagoon.
The tidal streams set eastward and westward along the northern side of Cuarteron reef.
Although considerable depths were found, in 1865, close to all the London reefs, there was
generally some slope from the edges on which HMS Rifleman found safe anchorage for a
short period, but on Cuarteron reef no anchorage could be found. 324

336. The same general description, albeit with less detail, is repeated in later editions of the China
Sea Pilot, 325 in the U.S. Sailing Directions (Enroute): South China Sea and the Gulf of
Thailand,326 in the Japanese South China Sea and Malacca Strait Pilot,327 and in the Philippine
Coast Pilot.328
337. A slightly different description appears in the China Sailing Directions: South China Sea
published by the Navigation Guarantee Department of the Chinese Navy Headquarters, which
reads as follows:
Huayang Reef - Approximately 40 nautical miles slightly westerly of due north from the
Yongshu Reef is the easternmost part of the Yinqing Reefs. It is an independent table-like
323

See Admiralty Hydrographic Office, China Sea Directory, Vol. II, p. 68 (1st ed., 1868).

324

China Sea Pilot, Vol. I, p. 123 (2nd ed., 1951).

325

United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, Admiralty Sailing Directions: China Sea Pilot (NP31), Vol. 2,
p. 65 (10th ed., 2012) (Annex 235).

326

United States National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Pub. 161 Sailing Directions (Enroute), South
China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, p. 13 (13th ed., 2011) (Annex 233).

327

Japan Coast Guard, Document No. 204: South China Sea and Malacca Strait Pilot p. 26 (March 2011)
(Annex 234).

328

Philippine National Mapping and Resource Information Agency, Philippine Coast Pilot, p. 16-72 (6th ed.,
1995) (Annex 230).

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reef with no lagoon in the center of the reef flat. It appears to be trending toward the east
and west. During high tide it is submerged. During spring tide and low tide, it is exposed,
and its middle part is low and flat.329

338. In the Tribunal’s view, the statement that “[d]uring high tide it is submerged” in the Chinese
sailing directions is better understood as stating that the reef platform is submerged at high tide,
rather than as disproving the existence of particular rocks above water at high tide. In contrast,
the references to rocks in the 1938 description of the reef are clear. In light of the purpose of
sailing directions in enabling visual navigation, this should be understood as a description of
rocks that remain visible at high tide. There is no more recent or more authoritative evidence
that would suggest the absence of high-tide rocks on Cuarteron Reef, and the Philippines does
not contest the status of Cuarteron Reef as a high-tide feature.
339. The Tribunal concludes that Cuarteron Reef in its natural condition was encumbered by rocks
that remain exposed at high tide and is, accordingly, a high-tide feature.
iii.

Fiery Cross Reef

340. Fiery Cross Reef was surveyed by HMS Rifleman in 1866, which produced a detailed fair chart
of the feature, which is reproduced as Figure 4 on page 149 below. A prominent rock on the
south-west end of the reef is clearly marked on the fair chart, although it is not described in the
1868 edition of the China Sea Directory.330 Fiery Cross Reef was visited again by HMS Herald
in 1936, which forwarded the following amended description for the sailing directions:
The Fiery Cross or N.W. Investigator Reef is a coral reef having several dry patches, upon
most of which the sea breaks even in light winds, or with a slight swell. It is 14 miles long,
north-east and south-west, and 4 miles wide. The largest dry patch is at its south-west end
and has a conspicuous rock, about 2 feet high (0m6), on the south-ease side about 4 cables
from the south-west extreme in Lat. 9° 33′ N., Long. 112° 53′ E. Anchorage is obtainable
in 13 fathoms (23m7) about 2 cables from the edge of the reef, with this rock bearing 062,
distant 7 cables.331

341. This description was incorporated into the 1951 edition of the China Sea Pilot, which clarifies
that “[a]t high water the whole reef is covered except a prominent rock . . . , about 2 feet
(0m6),” 332 and is repeated in later editions of the China Sea Pilot, 333 in the U.S. Sailing

329

Navigation Guarantee Department of the Chinese Navy Headquarters, China Sailing Directions: South
China Sea (A103), p. 178 (2011) (Annex 232(bis)).

330

Admiralty Hydrographic Office, China Sea Directory, Vol. II, p. 68 (1st ed., 1868).

331

HMS Herald, Corrections to Sailing Directions for Spratly Island, Amboyna Cay, and Fiery Cross Reef,
UKHO Jacket H3853/1936.

332

China Sea Pilot, Vol. I, pp. 123-124 (2nd ed., 1951).

333

United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, Admiralty Sailing Directions: China Sea Pilot (NP31), Vol. 2,
p. 65 (10th ed., 2012) (Annex 235).

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Directions (Enroute): South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand,334 and in the Philippine Coast
Pilot. 335 The same rock is also described in the Chinese Navy Headquarters China Sailing
Directions: South China Sea in the following terms:
Yongshu Reef - Located at the southeast part of the Nansha Islands and the west end of the
Nanhua waterway’s south side, the reef is trending from northeast-to-southwest. Most of
the atoll is submerged underwater. During high tide, only the western end has 2 sq. meters
of natural reef rock exposed. During low tide, there are 7 pieces of reef flat of varying sizes
that are exposed.336

342. There is no more recent or more authoritative evidence that would suggest the absence of a
high-tide rock on Fiery Cross Reef, and the Philippines does not contest the status of Fiery
Cross Reef as a high-tide feature. The Tribunal also notes that the Philippines’ expert has noted
the possible existence of additional small sand cays on Fiery Cross Reef that remain above
water at high tide, 337 although the Tribunal recalls its observations on reliance on satellite
evidence (see paragraph 326 above).
343. The Tribunal concludes that Fiery Cross Reef, in its natural condition was encumbered by a
rock that remained exposed at high tide and is, accordingly, a high-tide feature.
iv.

Johnson Reef

344. Union Bank, including Johnson Reef, was not surveyed by HMS Rifleman in the 1860s, and the
first Royal Navy survey of the area appears to have been undertaken by HMS Herald in 1931.
The fair chart of this survey is extremely accurate with respect to position and shape of features
on the Union Bank, as compared to modern imagery. This suggests both that the survey was
carefully done and that it benefited from the Royal Navy’s use of flying boats and aerial
photography in its 1931 survey operations. The fair chart is reproduced as Figure 5 on page 151
below, along with other surveys of Johnson Reef and clearly depicts a high-tide rock in the
southern corner of the reef. The corresponding description of Union Bank in the Royal Navy’s
1944 sailing directions for the Spratly Islands, however, is vague and adds no detail concerning
Johnson Reef.

334

United States National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Pub. 161 Sailing Directions (Enroute), South
China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, p. 13 (13th ed., 2011) (Annex 233).

335

Philippine National Mapping and Resource Information Agency, Philippine Coast Pilot, p. 16-72 (6th ed.,
1995).

336

Navigation Guarantee Department of the Chinese Navy Headquarters, China Sailing Directions: South
China Sea (A103), p. 178 (2011) (Annex 232(bis)).

337

Schofield Report, p. 66.

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345. In addition to the British, the Imperial Japanese Navy was actively involved in surveying the
Spratly Islands in the 1930s and published a plan of Union Bank as part of Imperial Japanese
Navy Chart No. 525 – Plans in the Southern Archipelago. That chart also clearly depicts a
small high-tide feature in the southern extremity of Johnson Reef.
346. The most detailed description of Johnson Reef, however, appears as part of the U.S. survey of
what was known as the “Pigeon Passage”, a safe route through the Spratlys from Half Moon
Shoal in the east to Fiery Cross Reef in the west that was surveyed by USS Pigeon and
accompanying vessels in 1935 and 1937.

The report of that survey includes plans and

descriptions of the principal reefs adjacent to the surveyed route, including a plan for what is
incorrectly identified as “Sin Cowe Island”. However, from the shape of the reef formation, the
coordinates given for it, and its location in the sketch plan of Union Bank, entitled “Shoals Near
Sin Cowe Islands,” it is apparent that what USS Pigeon identified as Sin Cowe was, in fact,
Johnson Reef. The U.S. plan of that feature depicts numerous rocks and notes the coordinates
of a “largest rock”. The accompanying description of the feature was as follows:
Sin Cowe Island – Position of the largest rock, which is about 5 feet in diameter and four
feet high in S.E. corner is Latitude 9° 42′ 00″ N., Longitude 114° 16′ 30″ E. The reef was
sighted 4.7 miles from a height of 70 feet. The island was underwater except for about six
rocks at S.E. corner. This is the southernmost of a cluster of about 20 shoals, (see sketches
#3 and 4) that extend to the eastward for about 40 miles. These reefs were in two parallel
lines, the reefs in pair; one line is at an angle of about 050°T. from Sin Cowe and the
second to the northwestward of the first at a distance of about 1.5 miles. The small reef to
the northwestward of Sin Cowe bears about 330° true. A coral dune was reported on the
southeastern part of this small reef. It was also reported that these reefs were interconnected below the surface but that the channel between this reef and Sin Cowe Island
was probably navigable. The prevailing wind blew directly down the channel from 060°
true. Sin Cowe Island is fish-hooked in shape which is caused by a lagoon in its center
whose entrance is in the northeast corner of the island. The major axis of this island shoal
is about two miles in a north south direction and it varies in width from about one mile at
the north end to ½ mile at the south end. It is apparently of volcanic origin with a lining of
coral around the lagoon.
The lagoon is long and narrow; appears deep at its entrance, shoaling gradually toward the
head. It might provide anchorage for not more than two submarines but this is doubtful.
Anchorage space is not recommended here due to the steep banks and large fissures in the
coral, although three mine sweepers have been at anchor here at the same time on the
southwestern side of the shoal in water ranging from 17 to 30 fathoms. 338

347. A condensed description, correctly identified as Johnson Reef and describing the same rocks, is
set out in later editions of the U.S. sailing directions:
Johnson Reef (9°42'N., 114°17'E.), of brown volcanic rock with white coral around the
inner rim, is located at the SW end of Union Atoll. Johnson Reef partly encloses a shallow
lagoon entered from the NE. The largest rock on the reef is about 1.2m high. Several other

338

U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office, Notes and Sailing Directions: Dangerous Ground in China Sea, pp. 4-5
(1937).

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rocks show above the water on the SE part of the reef; the remainder of the reef is reported
to be covered.339

348. Although a datum for this 1.2-metre height is not directly given, the definitions section of the
U.S. Sailing Directions indicates that height references refer to the plane of reference for the
chart concerned. Other larger-scale U.S. charts in the area describe the plane of reference as
being Mean Sea Level. In light of the tidal ranges identified for the South China Sea (see
paragraph 316 above), a rock four feet or 1.2 metres above Mean Sea Level would be exposed
at high tide. The U.S. sailing directions also note that “several other rocks show above the water.”
349. No such rocks are reported in the Chinese Navy Headquarters China Sailing Directions: South
China Sea, which describe Johnson Reef as follows:
Chigua Reef - Located at the edge of the southwest end of the Jiuzhang reef group’s large
atoll, the reef flat is low-lying, it has no particularly obvious natural markers. During high
tide, it is submerged. During low tide, it is exposed and has a shape resembling a
horseshoe.340

350. Chinese Chart No. 18400, however, depicts a height of “(0.9)” metres above Mean Sea Level in
the area of Johnson Reef corresponding with the high-tide elevation depicted in the British and
Japanese materials. A 0.9-metre height above Mean Sea Level would be exposed even at Mean
High Water Springs and would be exposed by nearly half a metre a Mean Higher High Water.
351. The Tribunal is thus presented with a British survey and Japanese plan that depict a high-tide
feature on Johnson Reef, a U.S. survey and sailing directions that describe a rock that would
likely be exposed at high water, Chinese sailing directions that are phrased in somewhat general
terms and make no mention of any rocks whatsoever, and a published Chinese chart indicating a
height above high water on Johnson Reef. Taken together, the weight of the evidence favours
the conclusion that Johnson Reef is a high-tide feature, which the Tribunal accordingly reaches.
v.

McKennan Reef

352. Like Johnson Reef and the other features making up Union Bank, McKennan Reef was not
surveyed before the 1930s. Also like Johnson Reef, the results of the British and Japanese
surveys from that period are consistent. On McKennan Reef, however, they do not show any
high-tide feature. Both surveys are reproduced as Figure 6 on page 153 below. Nor is any high

339

United States National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Pub. 161 Sailing Directions (Enroute), South
China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, p. 11 (13th ed., 2011) (Annex 233).

340

Navigation Guarantee Department of the Chinese Navy Headquarters, China Sailing Directions: South
China Sea (A103), p. 178 (2011) (Annex 232(bis)).

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Figure 4: Fiery Cross Reef
Survey by HMS Rifleman (1866)
(with enlargement)

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Figure 5: Johnson Reef

Survey by HMS Herald (1931)
(depicting 4 foot rock in S.E. corner)

Imperial Japanese Navy Chart No. 525
(depicting high-water feature in S. corner)

Survey by USS Pigeon (1937)
(depicting multiple rocks in S.E. corner)

China Chart No. 18400 (2005)
(depicting 0.9 metre height above Mean Sea Level)

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Figure 6: McKennan Reef

Survey by HMS Herald (1931)
(depicting no high-water feature)

Imperial Japanese Navy Chart No. 525
(depicting no high-water feature)

China Chart No. 18400 (2005)
(depicting 2.3 metre height above Mean Sea Level)

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tide feature evident in U.S. Hydrographic Office Chart No. 5667, published in 1951 on the basis
of the earlier Japanese survey. 341 No sailing directions appear to include any description of
McKennan Reef and the British China Sea Pilot notes that Union Bank as a whole “has not
been closely examined.”342
353. The Philippines argues that the “[c]harts produced by China, the Philippines, the UK and U.S.
and Japan all depict McKennan Reef as a low-tide elevation.”343 The Tribunal notes, however,
that this statement is not wholly correct. China’s Chart No. 18400 depicts Union Bank at
1:250,000 scale, but does not support the position advocated by the Philippines. Although the
chart does not include any symbol for a rock or island on the reef platform of McKennan Reef
itself, a height of “(2.3)” metres above Mean Sea Level is indicated directly adjacent to
McKennan Reef, with a notation that corresponds to that used on Chinese charts for features
that do not cover at high water. Such a height would be well above high water against any
datum. While the absence of any symbol on the reef platform itself might, at first glance, call
this height into question, the Tribunal notes that the same pattern of notation (an apparently bare
reef platform with an adjacent height) is used on the same chart to depict Namyit Island on
Tizard Bank, where a high-tide feature unequivocally does exist, and also Johnson Reef on
Union Bank. The source key to Chart No. 18400 indicates that certain areas of the Chart were
surveyed by China between 1989 and 2001 and that the data for Union Bank were derived from
“1984, 1982 version of nautical chart.”
354. The Philippines also argues that no high-tide feature is apparent in the satellite bathymetry
materials prepared by EOMAP, but the Tribunal is unwilling to give weight to this evidence for
the reasons discussed above (see paragraph 326). As between the earlier British and Japanese
materials depicting no high-tide feature on McKennan Reef and a more recent Chinese chart
depicting a height at McKennan Reef, the Tribunal concludes that the Chinese chart is to be
preferred as the more recent evidence and that the height indicated for McKennan Reef most
likely indicates a coral boulder pushed onto the reef platform and above high water by storm
action.

341

The plan of Union Bank from U.S. Hydrographic Office Chart No. 5657 is reproduced (and misnumbered
as Chart No. 5667) in D. Hancox and V. Prescott, Secret Hydrographic Surveys in the Spratly Islands,
p. 215 (1999).

342

United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, Admiralty Sailing Directions: China Sea Pilot (NP31), Vol. 2,
p. 63 (10th ed., 2012) (Annex 235).

343

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 30.

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vi.

Hughes Reef

355. Like McKennan Reef and the other features making up Union Bank, Hughes Reef was not
surveyed before the 1930s.
356. In contrast to McKennan Reef, however, the British and Japanese surveys of Hughes Reef
undertaken in the 1930s suggest different conclusions. No high-tide feature is depicted on
Hughes Reef in the British fair chart of Union Bank, whereas Imperial Japanese Navy Chart
No. 525 depicts such a feature on the south-west corner of the reef.

Both surveys are

reproduced as Figure 7 on page 159 below. The same depiction as Imperial Japanese Navy
Chart No. 525 also appears in U.S. Hydrographic Office Chart No. 5667, which was based upon
the Japanese survey results. 344 No sailing directions appear to include any description of
Hughes Reef.
357. The Philippines argues that the “[c]harts produced by China, the Philippines, the UK and US
and Japan all depict McKennan Reef as a low-tide elevation”345 and the Tribunal understands
that statement to apply equally to Hughes Reef, in light of the Philippines’ conflation of the two
features.

The Tribunal is reluctant, however, to draw significant conclusions from the

comparatively small scale (1:250,000 or smaller) depictions of the features on Union Bank in
more recent charts for the reasons outlined above (see paragraph 330). The Tribunal agrees that
the U.S. and Philippine charts at 1:250,000 do not depict any feature on the reef platform at
Hughes Reef, but notes that the same charts also do not depict any high-tide feature at
Sin Cowe, where a high-tide feature unequivocally exists. U.S. Defense Mapping Agency Chart
No. 93044 also indicates that its survey data for Union Bank are derived from Taiwan Authority
of China Chart No. 477A, which is, in turn, a reproduction of Imperial Japanese Navy Chart
No. 525, rather than the product of independent survey work.346 The Tribunal sees no reason to
assume that the removal of any indication of a high-tide feature on Hughes Reef in Chart
No. 93044 reflects anything more than a reduction in detail corresponding with the decrease in
scale from original 1:100,000 scale of Imperial Japanese Navy Chart No. 525 to the 1:250,000
scale of Chart No. 93044. At the same time, however, China’s Chart No. 18400 (the same chart
to note a height at McKennan Reef) includes no indication of a height or high-tide feature at
Hughes Reef.

344

The plan of Union Bank from U.S. Hydrographic Office Chart No. 5657 is reproduced (and misnumbered
as Chart No. 5667) in D. Hancox & V. Prescott, Secret Hydrographic Surveys in the Spratly Islands,
p. 215 (1999).

345

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 30.

346

See D. Hancox & V. Prescott, Secret Hydrographic Surveys in the Spratly Islands, pp. 154-155 (1999).

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358. In light of all of the evidence, the Tribunal concludes that Hughes Reef is a low-tide elevation.
Although the Japanese chart does appear to indicate a high-tide feature, no height is given for
this feature (in contrast to the depiction of a sand cay on Gaven Reef (North) on the Japanese
chart of Tizard Bank) and the observation is not corroborated by any other evidence before the
Tribunal. Nor does it appear in the most recent Chinese chart.
vii.

Gaven Reefs

359. The Gaven Reefs lie on Tizard Bank, which constitutes one of the most-thoroughly surveyed
areas of the South China Sea. Tizard Bank was carefully surveyed by HMS Rifleman in 1867
and the large-scale fair chart of that survey does not depict a high-tide feature on the Gaven
Reefs. This and other depictions of Gaven Reef (North) are reproduced as Figure 8 on page 161
below. Nor is any high-tide feature mentioned in the original description of Gaven Reef (North)
(unnamed at the time) in the 1868 version of the China Sea Directory, which reads as follows:
Two dangerous reefs, covered at high water, lie to the westward of Nam-yit; the first is
oval-shaped, three-quarters of a mile long N.N.W. and S.S.E., the island bearing from it E.
7/8 N., distant 6 miles; the second is a mile long North and South, and nearly three-quarters
of a mile broad at its northern end, narrowing to a point at the opposite end; this last is the
westernmost danger of the Tizard group, and its outer edge is in lat. 10° 13′ 20″ N., long.
114° 13′ 7″ E.347

360. The description of the Gaven Reefs appears essentially unchanged throughout the various
editions of the China Sea Directory and China Sea Pilot. A reference to a beacon on Gaven
Reef (North) appears in the 1951 edition of the China Sea Pilot,348 but has been removed by the
1964 edition.349
361. The Gaven Reefs were also extensively surveyed in the 1930s by the Imperial Japanese Navy,
which maintained a presence on Itu Aba Island in Tizard Bank prior to and during the Second
World War. The Gaven Reefs were depicted in a large-scale plan of the Tizard Bank, which
indicates a sand cay in the north-east corner of Gaven Reef (North) with a survey marker upon it
and the words “(height 1.9 metres)” in parentheses adjacent to the sand cay. 350

The

accompanying description of Gaven Reef (North) in the Japanese war-time sailing directions for
the South China Sea reads as follows:

347

Admiralty Hydrographic Office, China Sea Directory, Vol. II, p. 71 (1st ed., 1868).

348

Admiralty Hydrographic Department, China Sea Pilot, Vol. I, p. 125 (2nd ed., 1951).

349

Admiralty Hydrographic Department, China Sea Pilot, Vol. I, pp. 110-111 (3rd ed., 1964).

350

Imperial Japanese Navy, Chart No. 523: Tizard Bank (1938).

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Sankaku Shō is a shoal about a mile in extent submerged at H.W. which forms the W.
extreme of Chizato Tai; there is a sand cay near its N.E. extremity. 351

362. The Japanese plan of Tizard Bank was reproduced after the war as U.S. Hydrographic Office
Chart No. 5659 in 1950 and reissued in 1974 as Defense Mapping Agency Chart No. 93043,
including a magenta overlay with additional details. This chart reproduces the Japanese plan
exactly (to the point that the parentheses surrounding the Japanese text on Gaven Reef (North)
are printed on the U.S. chart, even though the text itself has been removed) and includes the
depiction of the sand cay and survey marker on Gaven Reef (North). The magenta overlay adds
the height of “1.9” adjacent to the sand cay, which appears to have been omitted from the 1950
printing. The magenta overlay appears to represent a revision of the plan on the basis of
additional, Japanese-language information included in the original Japanese plan, but not
transposed to the first edition of the U.S. chart. The accompanying U.S. sailing directions
describe the Gaven Reefs in the following terms:
Gaven Reefs (10°12'N., 114°13'E.) is comprised of two reefs which cover at HW and lie
7 miles W and 8.5 miles WNW, respectively, of Namyit Island. They are the SW dangers
of Tizard Bank. The N of the two reefs is marked by a white sand dune about 2m high. 352

363. During the Hearing on the Merits, the Tribunal questioned the Philippines regarding Chart
No. 93043 and the U.S. sailing directions. The Philippines argued that no high-tide feature was
indicated insofar as (a) properly interpreted, the sailing directions describe a sand dune that
would cover at high water; (b) the feature depicted on Gaven Reef (North) is a Japanese survey
marker; (c) the height of 1.9 metres is based on a datum of Mean Sea Level and does not
indicate a height above high water; (d) a high-tide feature is not depicted on later U.S. charts, in
particular U.S. Defense Mapping Agency Chart No. 93044; and (e) the Chinese sailing
directions for the Gaven Reefs indicate that “[d]uring high tide, these reef rocks are all
submerged by seawater.”353
364. The Tribunal, however, reaches a different conclusion on the interpretation of the U.S. and
Japanese materials for the following reasons:

351

English translation of Japanese Pilot for Taiwan and the South-West Islands, Vol. V, p. 243 (March 1941
ed.), “Sailing Directions for Shinnan Guntao,” UKHO Ref. H019893/1944.

352

United States National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Pub. 161 Sailing Directions (Enroute), South
China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, p. 9 (13th ed., 2011) (Annex 233).

353

Navigation Guarantee Department of the Chinese Navy Headquarters, China Sailing Directions: South
China Sea (A103), p. 177 (2011) (Annex 232(bis)).

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Figure 7: Hughes Reef

Survey by HMS Herald (1931)
(depicting no high-water feature)

Imperial Japanese Navy Chart No. 525
(depicting a high-water feature in S.E. corner)

China Chart 18400 (2005)
(depicting no high-water feature)

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Figure 8: Gaven Reef (North)

Survey by HMS Rifleman (1867)
(depicting no high-water feature)

British Admiralty Chart No. 1201 (2000)
(depicting no high-water feature)

Imperial Japanese Navy Chart No. 523
(depicting sand cay with height of 1.9 metres
above Mean Sea Level)

U.S. Chart No. 93043 (1967)
(depicting sand cay with height of 1.9 metres
above Mean Sea Level)

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(a)

It is certainly true that both the U.S. and Japanese sailing directions describe Gaven Reef
(North) as submerged at high water and also describe a sand cay on the reef. In the
Tribunal’s view, the proper interpretation of these descriptions is that the reef platform is
submerged at high water, while the sand cay remains exposed. Given that the purpose of
sailing directions is to facilitate visual navigation, references to particular rocks or cays
on a reef will generally describe features that remain visible points of reference at high
tide when the reef itself is covered. In the absence of an indication that a rock or cay
covers at high water, the Tribunal would normally understand such a description to refer
to a high-water feature, even in the absence of an express indication of that fact.

(b)

Both the Japanese chart and the U.S. reproduction thereof clearly depict both a high-water
sand cay and a Japanese survey marker on the north-east corner of Gaven Reef (North).
This is more clearly visible in the Japanese printing, but is also apparent upon close
examination of the U.S. chart.

(c)

The height of 1.9 metres on Gaven Reef (North) is referenced to a datum of Mean Sea
Level, as the chart itself indicates. In light of tidal ranges in the Spratly Islands indicated
by British and Chinese observations (see paragraph 316 above), a height of 1.9 metres
would be well above even Mean High Water Springs. Even using the somewhat higher
Japanese tidal information on Chart No. 93043 itself would place Highest High Water at
0.9 metres above Mean Sea Level and still a full metre below the height indicated for the
sand cay on Gaven Reef (North).

(d)

More recently published U.S. charts that include Tizard Bank do not reflect more recent
survey information. Chart No. 93044—which the Philippines considers to dispose of the
existence of a cay on Gaven Reef (North)—indicates that its survey data for Tizard Bank
are derived from Taiwan Authority of China Chart No. 478. This chart is, in turn, a
reproduction of Imperial Japanese Navy Chart No. 523, rather than the product of
independent survey work.354 The “newer” U.S. chart thus reflects the same underlying
Japanese survey as the chart depicting a sand cay. The absence of detail on Gaven Reef
(North) is a result of the smaller 1:250,000 scale of the later chart, in comparison with the
1:75,000 scale of the earlier plan.

(e)

There appear to be some inaccuracies in the English translation of the Chinese sailing
directions for the Gaven Reefs provided by the Philippines, which properly translate as
follows:

354

See D. Hancox & V. Prescott, Secret Hydrographic Surveys in the Spratly Islands, pp. 154-155 (1999).

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Gaven Reef (Nanxun Reef) - Located at the southwest end of the Tizard Bank
(Zhenghe reef group), it is comprised of two coral reefs, one in the south and one in
the north. The relative positions of the two coral reefs appear to be trending from
northwest to southeast. The reef in the southeast direction is located approximately
six nautical miles west of Namyit Island (Hongxiu Island). During high tide, these
reef rocks are all submerged by seawater.355

Hongxiu Island is a reference to Namyit Island, which lies well beyond six nautical miles
from Gaven Reef (North). Read correctly, the Chinese sailing directions clearly state that
the rocks at Gaven Reef (South) are submerged at high water.
365. The Tribunal therefore considers that it is faced not with uniform evidence concerning the status
of Gaven Reef (North), but with a 20th century Japanese survey depicting a sand cay on the reef
and a 19th century British survey indicating no such feature. As between the two, the Tribunal
considers that the Japanese evidence is to be preferred and sees no more recent evidence that
would disprove the existence of a sand cay on Gaven Reef (North). Accordingly, the Tribunal
concludes that Gaven Reef (North) is a high-tide feature.
366. The Tribunal has seen no evidence in any of the sources discussed above that would suggest the
existence of a high-tide feature on Gaven Reef (South) and notes the description to the contrary
in the Chinese sailing directions. The Tribunal concludes that Gaven Reef (South) is a low-tide
elevation.
viii.

Subi Reef

367. Subi Reef was surveyed along with the nearby Thitu Reefs in 1867 by HMS Rifleman. The
detailed fair chart of the feature is reproduced as Figure 9 on page 169 below and depicts no
high-tide feature on the reef. The corresponding sailing directions from 1868 describe Subi
Reef as follows:
Soubie Reef, the south-west end of which is in lat. 10° 53½′ N., long. 114° 4′ E., is the
westernmost danger in this locality. It is an irregular-shaped coral reef, nearly 3½ miles
long, N.E. and S.W., and 2 miles broad, is dry at low water, and has a lagoon into which
there appears to be no passage.356

368. The same conclusion follows from the depiction of Subi Reef in U.S. Defense Mapping Agency
Chart No. 93061, although the Tribunal notes that this chart is a reissued version of U.S.
Hydrographic Office Chart No. 2786, which was simply a copy in 1911 of British Admiralty
Chart No. 1201, which was in turn based the 1867 survey data.357 No high-tide feature on Subi
355

Navigation Guarantee Department of the Chinese Navy Headquarters, China Sailing Directions: South
China Sea (A103), p. 177 (2011) (Annex 232(bis)) (corrected translation).

356

Admiralty Hydrographic Office, China Sea Directory, Vol. II, p. 72 (1st ed., 1868).

357

D. Hancox & V. Prescott, Secret Hydrographic Surveys in the Spratly Islands, p. 38 (1999).

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Reef is depicted on British Admiralty Chart No. 1201 either,358 and the Tribunal is unable to
identify any source suggesting a rock or cay above high water on Subi Reef. Accordingly, the
Tribunal concludes that Subi Reef is a low-tide elevation.
369. A more complex question, however, is whether Subi Reef lies within 12 nautical miles of a
high-tide feature, such that it would could serve as a baseline for the territorial sea of that
high-tide feature pursuant to Article 13(1) of the Convention. Subi Reef lies slightly more than
12 nautical miles from the baseline of Thitu Island, and would not qualify for the purposes of
Article 13(1) for a territorial sea drawn from Thitu Island itself. The 1867 fair chart of the Thitu
Reefs, however, clearly depicts a high-water “Sandy Cay” on the reefs to the west of Thitu
Island. This feature—provided that it, in fact, exists—would lie within 12 nautical miles of
Subi Reef, which would be permitted by Article 13(1) to serve as a baseline for the territorial
sea drawn from Sandy Cay.
370. When questioned on this feature during the hearing, the Philippines argued that Sandy Cay no
longer exists, insofar as it is not depicted in more recent U.S. charts that include the Thitu Reefs
and does not appear in the satellite-derived bathymetry prepared by EOMAP.359
371. As an initial matter, the Tribunal does not believe that any reliable conclusions can be drawn
from the absence of a depiction of Sandy Cay in the 1984 edition of United States Defense
Mapping Agency Chart No. 93044. That chart indicates that the area surrounding the Thitu
Reefs was drawn from the Taiwan Authority of China’s Chart No. 477, which is in turn is
drawn from British Admiralty Chart No. 1201 and the same survey of the Thitu Reefs from
1867. 360 The Tribunal sees nothing to suggest that the later U.S. publication reflects new
information on the conditions prevailing on the Thitu Reefs, rather than simply a reduction in
detail corresponding with the decreased scale of the chart.
372. On the contrary, the Tribunal notes that a sandbar to the west of Thitu Island is mentioned in all
of the recent editions of all relevant sailing directions (including that of the United States):

358

BA Chart 1201 B8 (2000).

359

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), p. 62.

360

D. Hancox and V. Prescott, “A Geographical Description of the Spratly Islands and an Account of
Hydrographic Surveys Amongst Those Islands,” IBRU Maritime Briefing, Vol. 1, No. 6, p. 40 (1995)
(Annex 256).

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(a)

In the Philippine Coast Pilot:
Pagasa Island . . . A reef lies 1.5 miles NW; irregular depths from 4.6 meters to 14.6
meters (15 to 48 ft) exist in the channel between them. A drying reef with a sand cay
near its center, lies 1.2 miles WSW of the above reef. 361

(b)

In the Chinese Sailing Directions:
The western side reef basin extends from Zhongye Island to the west approximately
six nautical miles. Aside from some exposed reef on all sides of the shoal, it is all
shallow shoals with irregular water depths.
The Tiexiandong Reef lies
approximately 1.5 nautical miles northwest of Zhongye Island. The water depth
between this reef and Zhongye Island is 4.5 metres 14.6 metres. Approximately 1.3
nautical miles southwest of this coral reef lies Tiexianzhong Reef, and on top of it is
a sandbar.362

(c)

In the British China Sea Pilot:
A drying reef with a sand cay near its centre 3½ miles WNW. In the middle of the
passage, between this reef and the reef 1¼ miles ENE, leading into the lagoon, there
is a shoal.363

(d)

In the U.S. Sailing Directions:
The W reefs of Thitu Island are composed of several drying reefs and shoal patches.
A sand cay lies on one of these drying reefs about 3.5 miles W of the island.364

373. With respect to satellite imagery, the Tribunal remains unconvinced that reliable conclusions
can be drawn from EOMAP’s satellite-derived bathymetry. Moreover, in contrast to a rock or
coral boulder, it is possible that a sand cay may be dispersed by storm action and reform in the
same location after a short while. The absence of a sand cay at a particular point in time is thus
not conclusive evidence of the absence of a high-tide feature. In this instance, the Tribunal
considers that the strong historical evidence of a sand cay on the reefs west of Thitu is to be
preferred, even if the presence of Sandy Cay over time is intermittent. As Subi Reef lies within
12 nautical miles of the reef on which Sandy Cay is located, it could serve as a basepoint for the
territorial sea of Sandy Cay. The Tribunal also notes, however, that even without a high-tide
feature in the location of Sandy Cay, Subi Reef would fall within the territorial sea of Thitu as
extended by basepoints on the low-tide elevations of the reefs to the west of the island.
Accordingly, the significance of Sandy Cay for the status of Subi Reef is minimal.

361

Philippine National Mapping and Resource Information Agency, Philippine Coast Pilot, p. 16-74 (6th ed.,
1995) (Annex 230).

362

Navigation Guarantee Department of the Chinese Navy Headquarters, China Sailing Directions: South
China Sea (A103), p. 176 (2011) (Annex 232(bis)).

363

United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, Admiralty Sailing Directions: China Sea Pilot (NP31), Vol. 2,
p. 66 (10th ed., 2012) (Annex 235).

364

United States National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Pub. 161 Sailing Directions (Enroute), South
China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, p. 9 (13th ed., 2011) (Annex 233).

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ix.

Mischief Reef

374. Mischief Reef was first surveyed in the 1930s, when it was considered to be of particular
interest as a possible base for flying boats in the event of war. HMS Herald surveyed the reef in
1933 and prepared a fair chart at 1:50,000 scale that shows no indication of any rock or feature
above water at high tide. The detailed fair chart of the feature is reproduced as Figure 10 on
page 171 below. HMS Herald also forwarded the following description of the reef in 1933:
An oval-shaped reef about 4½ miles long 100°, and 3 ½ miles broad, with a point on
the southern side.
This reef is awash at Low Water Springs, and is studded with rocks which dry about
2 feet. There is however a rock which dries 5 feet, situated 054°, 1.3 miles from the South
Point.
Very Good shelter is afforded in the lagoon which the reef contains, and boats were
able to work in comparative comfort in spite of a wind force 4. The average depth in the
lagoon is about 4 fathoms, but it is only clear of dangers in the southern half, the remainder
having several patches of coral which either dry at Low Water or have less than 6 feet of
water over them.
There are three entrances to the lagoon, one on the S.W. side and two on the south.
These have been styled the SOUTH WESTERN ENTRANCE, the SOUTHERN
ENTRANCE and the BOAT CHANNEL.
(a)
The SOUTH WESTERN ENTRANCE is about .3 cables wide and 2.2 cables
long, with depths of 5 fathoms in the middle. It is however rendered entirely useless
for anything except small boats by a strip of coral lying across the inside of the
entrance, round which there is only a narrow and tortuous channel each side.
(b)
The SOUTHERN ENTRANCE is about ½ cable wide and has depths of over
10 fathoms in it. It is almost straight, and only about 1½ cables long. As with the
other two entrances there is a strong tidal stream both at the flood and the ebb, and
when the channel was examined, even at Neap Tides there was a tide of 1½ knots
running S.W. at the buoy in the middle.
I studied this entrance from the bridge at a distance of half a cable and though
I am of the opinion that I could have taken “HERALD” safely into the lagoon, I did
not consider the risk was justified taking into consideration the dangers known to be
existing inside the lagoon. Nor do I think that this can be called a suitable entrance
for destroyers, since so many factors have to be taken into consideration, i.e.
knowledge of coral reefs, visibility to enable the edges of the coral to be seen, slack
water and absence of which, which during “HERALD’s” visit was across the
entrance force 4.
(c)
The BOAT CHANNEL as its name implies is very narrow, and as it reaches
the lagoon is only 20 yards wide, though having a depth of more than 4 fathoms in
it.
In view of the fact that I did not consider any entrance suitable for ships of destroyer
size, a sketch survey only of Mischief Reef was carried out.
A base was measured by masthead angles between buoys anchored in the South
Western Entrance and Boat Channel, and this was extended to additional buoys in the
lagoon, while the rock drying 5 feet on the S.E. side was also fixed.
The lagoon and entrances were sounded by boats, while ship delineated the outside

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of the reef. Deep water extends close up to the reef all round, and ship lay off at night,
lights being placed on two of the buoys.
Star sights were obtained to fix the position of the buoy anchored in the middle of
Southern Entrance, being adjusted by range and bearing from the ship. The following
results were obtained: . . .
The mean position of the middle of Southern Entrance was therefore accepted to be
Lat. 9° 53′ 42″ N., Long. 115° 30′ 52″ E.365

375. HMS Herald then returned to Mischief Reef in 1938, entered the lagoon, and carried out further
surveys to establish the portions of the lagoon that were clear of submerged dangers.366 This
was then added to the extremely detailed description of Mischief Reef in the Royal Navy’s 1944
Sailing Direction for the Dangerous Ground.367 During the same period, the Imperial Japanese
Navy was also active in surveying Mischief Reef and produced a plan of the feature as part of
Imperial Japanese Navy Chart No. 525 – Plans in the Southern Archipelago. 368 It likewise
shows no feature above water at high tide.
376. The Tribunal also notes the description of Mischief Reef in the Chinese Navy Headquarters
sailing directions, which describe only rocks exposed at half tide in the following terms:
Meiji Reef – Located at the northeast part of the Nansha Islands, it is due east of the
Jiuzhang Reefs, and it is approximately 62 nautical miles from Dongmen Reef. The reef
resembles an elliptical shape, and it is an enclosed, independent atoll. The reef flat is
exposed during low tide and is submerged during high tide. The northern part is relatively
wide, and the southern part is relatively narrow. There are dozens of reef rocks on the reef
flat that range in height from 0.6 meters – 1.3 meters. During half-tide, they can be
exposed. The southwest part has three openings to enter the lagoon. The water depth of
the lagoon is 10 meters – 28 meters, and there are over 50 points of exposed reef flat
scattered throughout. To develop the distant-sea fishing industry, in 1994, China’s fishing
authorities constructed stilt houses and navigational aid facilities on this reef, set up
administrative offices, and created the conditions for distant-sea operations, fishing vessel
safety and production, supply, wind protection, and mooring. Anchoring grounds and the
safe anchoring zone within the Meiji Reef are located at the southwest part of the lagoon.
In the water areas within the joint line connecting the following five points, the water depth
is greater than 10 meters, and the area can provide shelter against level 10 strong winds:
(1) 9°53′.1N, 115°30′.6E;
(2) 9°53′.1N, 115°31′.6E;
(3) 9°54′.2N, 115°31′.5E;
(4) 9°55′.0N, 115°30′.5E;
(5) 9°53′.6N, 115°30′.2E.369

365

HMS Herald, Report of visit to Mischief Reef, UKHO Ref. H3331/1933.

366

Sailing Direction for the Dangerous Ground, UKHO Ref. HD384 (1944 ed.).

367

Sailing Direction for the Dangerous Ground, UKHO Ref. HD384, pp. 5-6 (1944 ed.).

368

Imperial Japanese Navy, Chart No. 525.

369

Navigation Guarantee Department of the Chinese Navy Headquarters, China Sailing Directions: South
China Sea (A103), p. 177 (2011) (Annex 232(bis)).

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Figure 9: Subi Reef and Sandy Cay on Thitu Reefs

Subi Reef: Survey by HMS Rifleman (1867)
(depicting no high-water feature)

Thitu Reefs: Survey by HMS Rifleman (1867)
(depicting sand cay on reef west of Thitu, within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef)

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Figure 10: Mischief Reef

Survey by HMS Herald (1933)
(depicting rock drying to 5 feet in S.E. corner)

Imperial Japanese Navy Chart No. 525
(depicting no high-water feature)

China Chart No. 18500
(depicting height of 1.0 metres above
Mean Sea Level in S.E. corner)

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377.

Despite the absence of any reference to a high-tide feature at Mischief Reef, the Tribunal notes
the reference to a drying rock with a height of five feet above Mean Low Water Springs in
HMS Herald’s description of the reef. China’s Chart No. 18500 similarly depicts a height of
one metre above Mean Sea Level in the location of that rock. Either measurement would at
least be close to the expected level of high water. The Tribunal notes, however, that it does not
have direct evidence of tidal conditions at Mischief Reef and concludes that the clear evidence
from direct observations—to “drying rocks” by HMS Herald and to rocks exposed “during halftide” in the Chinese sailing directions—is more convincing. In light, in particular, of the
amount of time spent by HMS Herald in surveying Mischief Reef and the knowledge of tidal
conditions apparent in the above description, the Tribunal considers it inconceivable that a
high-tide rock or feature could have been overlooked or gone unmentioned.

378. Accordingly, the Tribunal concludes that Mischief Reef is a low-tide elevation.
x.

Second Thomas Shoal

379. Second Thomas Shoal was also first surveyed in the 1930s, although less intensively than
Mischief Reef. Second Thomas Shoal was visited by HMS Iroquois in 1931.370 No detailed fair
plan of the reef appears to have been produced, but it is depicted in medium scale, without any
indication of a high-tide feature, on the reporting chart of the combined air/sea survey
operations that the Royal Navy undertook in that year to eliminate uncharted dangers and clear
safe lanes through the Spratly Islands. Second Thomas Shoal is also described in the Royal
Navy’s 1944 Sailing Directions for the Dangerous Ground in the following terms:
The northern end of 2nd Thomas shoal lies about 20 miles eastward of Mischief reef; the
reef contains a lagoon with depths of about 15 fathoms which may possibly be accessible to
vessels of moderate draught, from the eastward. The eastern side of the lagoon has the
appearance of having a general depth of about 5 fathoms with a number of isolated drying
patches; the most likely looking passages were examined and found to abound with rocks
with depths of about 2 fathoms but it is considered that a navigable passage probably exists.
The western side of the reef is almost continuous and dries; the only likely passage was
found, on examination to be foul. There are two or three large rocks near the southern end
which are almost certain to be visible at low water. H.M. Surveying Ship IROQUOIS was
unable to find anchorage in the vicinity. 371

380. The Tribunal notes in particular the description of rocks that “are almost certain to be visible at
low water” and takes this as an indication that no rocks on the reef would be visible at high
water. The Tribunal is also unaware of any more recent evidence suggesting a high-tide feature

370

See D. Hancox & V. Prescott, Secret Hydrographic Surveys in the Spratly Islands, p. 61 (1999).

371

Sailing Direction for the Dangerous Ground, UKHO Ref. HD384, p. 6 (1944 ed.).

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on Second Thomas Shoal, including in Chinese Chart No. 18500 or the Chinese Navy
Headquarters sailing directions, which describe the reef in the following terms:
Ren’ai Reef - Located approximately 25 nautical miles north by west of Xinyi Reef, it is an
exposed coral atoll, trending toward south-north, with a distance of approximately
10 nautical miles, the north side is wide while the south side is narrow. The northern half
of the atoll is all connected together, while the southern half is divided into several
segments. There are several solitary exposed reefs on the atoll. The water of the lagoon
inside the atoll is relatively deep, and its south side has several entry-exit points. Slightly
larger vessels can enter and exit. On its northeast side, there is an entry-exit point with a
water depth of 27 meters.372

381. Accordingly, the Tribunal concludes that Second Thomas Shoal is a low-tide elevation.
(d)

Conclusion

382. Based on the considerations outlined above, the Tribunal reaches the following conclusions
regarding the status of features in the South China Sea. The following features include, or in
their natural condition did include, rocks or sand cays that remain above water at high tide and
are, accordingly, high-tide features: (a) Scarborough Shoal, (b) Cuarteron Reef, (c) Fiery Cross
Reef, (d) Johnson Reef, (e) McKennan Reef, and (f) Gaven Reef (North).
383. The following features are, or in their natural condition were, exposed at low tide and
submerged at high tide and are, accordingly low-tide elevations: (a) Hughes Reef, (b) Gaven
Reef (South), (c) Subi Reef, (d) Mischief Reef, (e) Second Thomas Shoal.
384. The Tribunal additionally records that Hughes Reef lies within 12 nautical miles of the high-tide
features on McKennan Reef and Sin Cowe Island, Gaven Reef (South) lies within 12 nautical
miles of the high-tide features at Gaven Reef (North) and Namyit Island, and that Subi Reef lies
within 12 nautical miles of the high-tide feature of Sandy Cay on the reefs to the west of Thitu.

*

372

*

*

Navigation Guarantee Department of the Chinese Navy Headquarters, China Sailing Directions: South
China Sea (A103), p. 180 (2011) (Annex 232(bis)).

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C.

THE STATUS OF FEATURES AS ROCKS/ISLANDS (SUBMISSIONS NO. 3, 5, AND 7)
1.

Introduction

385. In this Section, the Tribunal addresses a further aspect of the Parties’ dispute concerning the
status of the maritime features and the source of maritime entitlements in the South China Sea.
This dispute is reflected in the Philippines’ Submissions No. 3, 5, and 7, which relate to disputes
about the status of maritime features in the South China Sea under Article 121 of the
Convention. Submissions No. 3, 5, and 7 provide as follows:
(3)

Scarborough Shoal generates no entitlement to an exclusive economic zone or
continental shelf;

...
(5)

Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal are part of the exclusive economic zone
and continental shelf of the Philippines;

...
(7)

Johnson Reef, Cuarteron Reef and Fiery Cross Reef generate no entitlement to
an exclusive economic zone or continental shelf;

386. Article 121 establishes a regime of islands as follows:
Article 121
Regime of Islands
1.

An island is a naturally formed area of land, surrounded by water, which is above
water at high tide.

2.

Except as provided for in paragraph 3, the territorial sea, the contiguous zone, the
exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf of an island are determined in
accordance with the provisions of this Convention applicable to other land territory.

3.

Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall
have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.

387. Constituting its own Part VIII of the Convention, the “Regime of Islands” in Article 121
presents a definition, a general rule, and an exception to that general rule.
388. Paragraph (1) contains the definition of an “island” as a “naturally formed area of land,
surrounded by water, which is above water at high tide.” This text is unchanged from the
1958 Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone.373
389. Paragraph (2) contains the general rule that islands generate the same entitlements under the
Convention as other land territory. Treating naturally formed islands the same as other land

373

1958 Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, art. 10.

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territory was not a new concept, for purposes of generating a territorial sea.374 Additionally, all
islands had previously been treated the same with respect to entitlements to the continental
shelf.375 However, the need to distinguish categories of islands had become apparent after the
emergence in the early 1970s of substantially expanded maritime resource zones beyond the
territorial sea, in combination with a new regime for the mineral resources of the seabed beyond
national jurisdiction, recognised as the “common heritage of mankind.” Thus, during the Third
UN Conference, an exception to the rule that all natural islands have the same entitlements was
accepted and incorporated into paragraph (3).376
390. Paragraph (3) acts as a limitation on the general rule in paragraph (2) and provides that “rocks
which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive
economic zone or continental shelf.” Article 121 therefore contains a distinction between two
categories of naturally formed high-tide features, which the Tribunal refers to as “fully entitled
islands” and “rocks” respectively.
391. The interpretation and application of Article 121 arise in two ways as a result of the Philippines’
Submissions.
392. First, the Philippines seeks specific determinations that certain features are “rocks” within the
meaning of Article 121(3) of the Convention. The Philippines’ Submission No. 3 seeks a
declaration that “Scarborough Shoal generates no exclusive economic zone or continental
shelf.” In its Award on Jurisdiction, the Tribunal noted that this Submission reflects a dispute
concerning the status of Scarborough Shoal as a fully entitled island or rock within the meaning
of Article 121 of the Convention and that the dispute was not barred from the Tribunal’s
consideration by any requirement of Section 1 of Part XV. The Tribunal noted that this was not
a dispute concerning sovereignty over the feature, insofar as the resolution of the Philippines’
Submission would not require the Tribunal to render a decision on sovereignty and insofar as
the objective of the Philippines’ Submission was not to advance its claim to sovereignty over
the feature.377 Accordingly, the question of sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal will remain

374

See, e.g., 1958 Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone; International Law
Commission, Report of the International Law Commission Covering the Work of its Eighth Session,
UN Doc. A/3159 (4 July 1956).

375

See Convention on the Continental Shelf, art. 1, 25 April 1958, 499 UNTS 311 (hereinafter
“1958 Convention on the Continental Shelf”).

376

For a detailed account of the negotiating history of Article 121 of the Convention, see United Nations,
Office for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, The Law of the Sea: Régime of Islands: Legislative
History of Part VIII (Article 121) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (1988).

377

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 152-153.

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entirely unaffected by the Tribunal’s determination.378 The Tribunal also held that this dispute
does not concern sea boundary delimitation, insofar as “a dispute concerning the existence of an
entitlement to maritime zones is distinct from a dispute concerning the delimitation of those
zones in an area where the entitlements of parties overlap.”379 The Tribunal thus found that it
had jurisdiction to consider Submission No. 3.380 The Tribunal similarly accepted jurisdiction
over Submission No. 7, in which the Philippines seeks a declaration that “Johnson Reef,
Cuarteron Reef and Fiery Cross Reef generate no entitlement to an exclusive economic zone or
continental shelf.”381
393. Second, by requesting in Submissions No. 5, 8, and 9 declarations about the Philippines’ own
exclusive economic zone, the Philippines effectively seeks a general determination that all of
the high-tide features in the Spratly Islands are “rocks” for purposes of Article 121(3) of the
Convention. The Philippines’ Submission No. 5 requests a declaration that “Mischief Reef and
Second Thomas Shoal are part of the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of the
Philippines.” As the Tribunal noted in its Award on Jurisdiction, through Submission No. 5,
“the Philippines has in fact presented a dispute concerning the status of every maritime feature
claimed by China within 200 nautical miles of Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal,” at
least as to whether such features are fully entitled islands.382 The Tribunal held that Submission
No. 5 reflects a dispute concerning the sources of maritime entitlements in the South China Sea
and whether a situation of overlapping entitlements to an exclusive economic zone or to a
continental shelf exists in the area of Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal. The Tribunal
found that the dispute was not barred from the Tribunal’s consideration by any requirement of
Section 1 of Part XV and is not a dispute concerning sovereignty over the features.383 The
Tribunal also held that this dispute does not concern maritime boundary delimitation:
[T]he premise of the Philippines’ Submission is not that the Tribunal will delimit any
overlapping entitlements in order to declare that these features form part of the exclusive
economic zone and continental shelf of the Philippines, but rather that no overlapping
entitlements can exist.384

The Tribunal pointed out, however, that if any other maritime feature claimed by China within
200 nautical miles of Mischief Reef or Second Thomas Shoal were found to be a fully entitled
378

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 400.

379

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 156; see also Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 155-157.

380

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 413(G).

381

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 404, 413(G).

382

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 172.

383

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 402.

384

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 402.

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island for purposes of Article 121, “the resulting overlap and the exclusion of boundary
delimitation from the Tribunal’s jurisdiction by Article 298 would prevent the Tribunal from
addressing this Submission.”385 Whether this is the case depends on a determination on the
status of maritime features in the South China Sea, and accordingly, the Tribunal reserved a
decision on its jurisdiction with respect to the Philippines’ Submission No. 5 for consideration
in this phase of the proceedings.
394. Similarly, the Tribunal reserved for the present Award any decision on its jurisdiction to
consider the Philippines’ Submissions No. 8 and 9, which seek the following declarations:
8) China has unlawfully interfered with the enjoyment and exercise of the sovereign
rights of the Philippines with respect to the living and non-living resources of its
exclusive economic zone and continental shelf;
9) China has unlawfully failed to prevent its nationals and vessels from exploiting the
living resources in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.

395. The Tribunal found in its Award on Jurisdiction that the premise of Submissions No. 8 and 9 is
that no overlapping entitlements exist.386 The Tribunal would only have jurisdiction to consider
the Philippines’ Submissions if it found that only the Philippines were to possesses an
entitlement to an exclusive economic zone and/or continental shelf in the areas where China’s
allegedly unlawful activities occurred. The Tribunal accepted that if any maritime feature
claimed by China within 200 nautical miles of these areas were to be a fully entitled island for
purposes of Article 121, “the resulting overlap and the exclusion of boundary delimitation from
the Tribunal’s jurisdiction by Article 298, would prevent the Tribunal from addressing the
submissions.”387 The Tribunal was not prepared to make a decision on the status of features as a
preliminary matter and reserved decision on its jurisdiction with respect to Submissions
No. 8 and 9 for consideration in this phase of the proceedings.
396. The interpretation and application of Article 121(3) of the Convention is therefore not only
required for the features specified by the Philippines in its Submissions No. 3 and 7, but also for
all significant high-tide features in the Spratly Islands that could impact the Tribunal’s
jurisdiction to decide the matters raised in the Philippines’ Submissions No. 5, 8, and 9.
2.

Factual Background

397. The location and description of Scarborough Shoal, Johnson Reef, Cuarteron Reef, and Fiery
Cross Reef are set out above at paragraphs 284 to 287. The Tribunal recalls that these features,
385

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 402.

386

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 405-406.

387

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 405-406.

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in their natural form, consist of largely submerged reefs, with small protrusions of coral that
reach no more than a few metres above water at high tide.
398. At paragraph 365, the Tribunal found that Gaven Reef (North) includes a sand cay that is
exposed at high tide, such that Gaven Reef (North) is a high-tide feature. At paragraph 354, the
Tribunal also found that McKennan Reef is a high-tide feature.
399. The location and description of Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal are also set out above,
at paragraph 290. Both features are located within 200 nautical miles of the Philippines’
baselines and fall within the exclusive economic zone claimed by the Philippines under its
Republic Act No. 9522 of 2009. 388 As explained above, whether the Tribunal can make a
declaration that the features are indeed “part of the exclusive economic zone and continental
shelf of the Philippines” as sought by Submission No. 5, would require the Tribunal to rule out
the possibility that any feature claimed by China could generate an entitlement to an exclusive
economic zone that would overlap that of the Philippines at either Mischief Reef or Second
Thomas Shoal. In practice, this would require a finding that none of the Spratly Islands are
fully entitled islands under Article 121 of the Convention.
400. In addition to the foregoing, there are a number of features in the Spratly Islands that are
unequivocally above water at high tide and whose classification may impact the Tribunal’s
decisions with respect to the Philippines’ Submissions No. 5, 8, and 9. Set out in the following
paragraphs are brief descriptions of the location and geographical characteristics of the six
largest features amongst the other high-tide features in the Spratly Islands.
401. Itu Aba is known as “Taiping Dao” (太平岛) in China and “Ligaw” in the Philippines. It is the
largest high-tide feature in the Spratly Islands, measuring approximately 1.4 kilometres in
length, and almost 400 metres at its widest point. Its surface area is approximately 0.43 square
kilometres. It is located at 10° 22′ 38″ N, 114° 21′ 56″ E, lying atop the northern edge of Tizard
Bank, 200.6 nautical miles from the archipelagic baseline of the Philippine island of Palawan
and 539.6 nautical miles from China’s baseline point 39 (Dongzhou (2)) adjacent to the island
of Hainan. The general location of Itu Aba, and that of the other major Spratly Island features
described in this Section, is depicted in Map 3 on page 125 above. It is surrounded by a coral
reef and shallow water. Itu Aba is currently under the control of the Taiwan Authority of China,
which stations personnel there. There are multiple buildings, a lighthouse, a runway, and port
facilities on Itu Aba.
388

Republic of the Philippines, Republic Act No. 9522, An Act to Amend Certain Provisions of Republic Act
No. 3046, as amended by Republic Act No. 5446, to Define the Archipelagic Baseline of the Philippines
and for Other Purposes (10 March 2009) (Annex 60).

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402. Thitu is known as “Zhongye Dao” (中业岛) in China and “Pagasa” in the Philippines. It
measures approximately 710 metres in length and 570 metres in width. Its surface area is
approximately 0.41 square kilometres. Thitu is located at 11° 03′ 19″ N, 114° 17′ 08″ E, atop
the west-side shoal of two adjacent coral reefs separated by a narrow deep channel. It is
surrounded by a drying coral reef. Thitu lies 227.4 nautical miles from the archipelagic baseline
of the Philippine island of Palawan and 502.1 nautical miles from China’s baseline point 39
(Dongzhou (2)) adjacent to the island of Hainan. Thitu is currently under the control of the
Philippines, which stations personnel there. There are multiple buildings, a lighthouse, and an
airstrip on Thitu.
403. West York Island is known as “Xiyue Dao” (西月岛) in China and “Likas” in the Philippines.
It measures approximately 720 metres in length and 440 metres in width. Its surface area is
approximately 0.21 square kilometres.

It is located atop a coral reef at 11° 05′ 01″ N,

115° 01′ 26″ E, 195.0 nautical miles from the archipelagic baseline of the Philippine island of
Palawan and 524.9 nautical miles from China’s baseline point 39 (Dongzhou (2)) adjacent to the
island of Hainan. It is surrounded by a white sand cay, outside of which there is a coral reef
basin. West York Island is currently controlled by the Philippines, which stations a small
number of personnel there.
404. Spratly Island is known as “Nanwei Dao” (南威岛) in China and “Lagos” in the Philippines. It
measures approximately 390 metres in length and 310 metres in width. Its surface area is
approximately 0.17 square kilometres.

It is located atop a coral bank at 8° 38′ 41″ N,

111° 55′ 15″E, 298.2 nautical miles from the archipelagic baseline of the Philippine island of
Palawan and 584.3 nautical miles from China’s baseline point 39 (Dongzhou (2)) adjacent to the
island of Hainan. It has a margin of white sand and broken coral and is surrounded by drying
rocky ledges. Spratly Island is currently controlled by Viet Nam, which stations personnel
there. There are multiple buildings, a lighthouse, sea walls, a runway, and a pier on Spratly
Island.
405. North-East Cay is known as “Beizi Dao” (北子岛) in China and “Parola” in the Philippines. It
measures approximately 825 metres in length and 244 metres in width. Its surface area is
approximately 0.15 square kilometres. It is located in the larger complex of features known as
“North Danger Reef” and lies at 11° 27′ 14″ N, 114° 21′ 14″ E, 239.3 nautical miles from the
archipelagic baseline of the Philippine island of Palawan and 484.3 nautical miles from China’s
baseline point 39 (Dongzhou (2)) adjacent to the island of Hainan. It is surrounded by a belt of
coral sand and lies on a drying reef. North-East Cay is currently controlled by the Philippines,

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which stations a small number of personnel there. There are a few structures, including a
lighthouse, on North-East Cay.
406. South-West Cay is known as “Nanzi Dao” (南子岛) in China and “Pugad” in the Philippines. It
measures approximately 670 metres in length and 283 metres in width. Its surface area is
approximately 0.15 square kilometres. Like North-East Cay, it is located in the larger complex
of features known as “North Danger Reef” and lies at 11° 25′ 49″ N, 114° 19′ 52″ E,
239.6 nautical miles from the archipelagic baseline of the Philippine island of Palawan and
484.8 nautical miles from baseline point 39 (Dongzhou (2)) adjacent to the island of Hainan. It
is surrounded by a drying reef. South-West Cay is currently controlled by Viet Nam, which
stations personnel there. There are multiple buildings, a lighthouse, seawalls, and port facilities
on South-West Cay.
407. Other high-tide features claimed by China atop coral reefs in the Spratly Islands are smaller in
size than the above-described features, with surface areas of less than 0.14 square kilometres,
but present similar characteristics. The Tribunal has examined Amboyna Cay, Flat Island,
Loaita Island, Namyit Island, Nanshan Island, Sand Cay, Sin Cowe Island, and Swallow Reef
for evidence of human habitation or economic life, but does not consider it necessary to discuss
them individually. The Tribunal considers that if the six largest features described above are all
to be classified as rocks for purposes of Article 121(3) of the Convention, the same conclusion
would also hold true for all other high-tide features in the Spratly Islands.
3.

The Philippines’ Position

408. The Philippines submits that Scarborough Shoal and all of the high-tide features in the Spratly
Islands are properly characterised as “rocks” under Article 121(3) of the Convention.389
(a)

Interpretation of Article 121(3)

409. Based on a review of the origins and negotiating history, the Philippines discerns “certain clear
conclusions regarding the object and purpose of the provision.”390 In particular, the Philippines
argues that the records of the Third UN Conference reflect overwhelming opposition to the
prospect of granting very small, remote, and uninhabited islands extensive maritime zones that
would unfairly and inequitably impinge on other States’ maritime space and on the area of

389

Memorial, paras. 5.1-5.114.

390

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 62; see also Memorial, para. 5.26.

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international seabed.391 The Philippines concludes that Article 121(3) of the Convention was
inserted as a result of the drafters’ belief “that it would be unjustifiable and inequitable to allow
tiny and insignificant features, which just happen to protrude above water at high tide, to
generate huge maritime entitlements to the prejudice of other proximate coastal states with
lengthy coastlines and significant populations, or to the prejudice of the global commons
beyond national jurisdiction.”392 In other words, the object and purpose of Article 121(3) is to
“avoid perverse effects of the major extensions of coastal State jurisdiction beyond the
territorial sea.”393
410. The Philippines’ makes the following arguments with respect to the interpretation of particular
elements of the text of Article 121(3).
411. First, it submits that the meaning of “rock” must not be limited in terms of geological or
geomorphological characteristics. Thus, protrusions above water that are composed of coral,
mud, sand, or soil may constitute rocks within the meaning of Article 121(3) of the
Convention.394
412. Second, the Philippines acknowledges that size alone is not determinative of the status of a
feature as a rock pursuant to Article 121(3). Nevertheless, it points to the negotiating history
and certain State practice to suggest that it would be reasonable to conclude that a high-tide
feature with a high-tide area “less that one km2 could be regarded as sufficiently small to create
a presumption that it is not genuinely able to sustain human habitation and economic life of its
own.”395 The Philippines’ expert, Professor Schofield, states that while size is not dispositive,
the physical extent of a feature can be a “pertinent factor” because, in many instances, a
“negligible physical dimension will preclude the possibility of a feature being able to sustain
human habitation or an economic life associated with it, because of the limited space and
resources for habitation and economic life.”396
413. Third, the Philippines notes that the term “cannot” refers to the capacity or potential of the
feature to sustain human habitation or economic life, and not to an enquiry into whether the
feature actually does now sustain, or has ever in the past sustained, human habitation or
economic life. Even so, the Philippines argues that the fact that a feature has historically been
391

Memorial, paras. 5.16-5.26; Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp. 62-65.

392

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), p. 11.

393

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 3), pp. 92-93; Written Responses of the Philippines, para. 108 (11 March 2016).

394

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp. 67-69.

395

Memorial, para. 5.26.

396

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), p. 44; see also Schofield Report, p. 18.

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uninhabited and has sustained no economic life would constitute powerful evidence of its lack
of capacity to do so.397
414. Fourth, the Philippines argues that the words “sustain human habitation” must mean that, in
naturally occurring conditions, a feature can “support a stable group of human beings across a
significant period of years,” by providing fresh water, food and living space and materials for
human shelter.398 Such meaning, the Philippines argues, is supported by the context of the
requirement that an island be “naturally formed” in the definition of an island in Article 121(1).
The object and purpose of the provision would be undermined if distant States could introduce
technology, artificial additions, and external supplies to support human habitation.
415. Fifth, the use of “on their own” in connection with features sustaining an economic life must,
according to the Philippines, plainly mean “that the feature itself has the ability to support an
independent economic life without infusion from the outside.”399 It would need to be “local and
not imported”; “real and not contrived,” though “100 percent self-sufficiency is not required.”400
416. Sixth, “economic life” is not to be equated simply to economic value. Rather it requires some
activity that presupposes more than the existence of a resource or the presence of an installation
of an economic nature. The feature must, in its naturally formed state, have the capacity to
develop sources of production, distribution, and exchange sufficient to support the presence of a
stable human population.401 The Philippines submits that the capacity of a feature to sustain an
economic life of its own may be determined by reference to the resources of the territorial sea,
but not beyond. According to the Philippines, if resources in the waters beyond the territorial
sea could be relied upon, the result would be circular and illogical and entail that the sea
dominates the land.402
417. The Philippines argues that in order to be a fully entitled island, a feature must be capable both
of sustaining human habitation and of sustaining an economic life of its own. It submits that the
grammatical context of the word “or” in Article 121(3) creates, through a double negative, a
cumulative requirement. This cumulativeness is, according to the Philippines, underscored by
logic because the concepts of sustained “human habitation” and “economic life” are interrelated,

397

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp. 69-70.

398

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp. 73-75, 88; Memorial, para. 5.37.

399

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 78.

400

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 81.

401

Memorial, para. 5.56.

402

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 82.

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and it is difficult to conceive of one without the other. 403

Any alternative reading of

Article 121(3) would have undesirable consequences: tiny specks of features incapable of
human habitation could generate entitlements to vast ocean spaces merely with the “use [of]
factory ships or oil platforms or even casinos built on stilts.”404 That said, the Schofield Report
applied a disjunctive test,405 and both the Philippines and its experts submit that the result in this
case would be the same whether the Tribunal required only one or both of the requirements of
“human habitation” and “economic life” to be satisfied for a feature to be a fully entitled
island.406
418. The Philippines points to various commentaries to support its view that installation of a military
presence on a rock, serviced from the outside, does not establish that the feature is capable of
sustaining human habitation or has an economic life of its own.407 It cites further support from
the practice of Viet Nam and Malaysia, who have externally sustained troops stationed on
high-tide features in the Spratly Islands, yet do not claim them as fully entitled islands. The
Philippines’ expert, Professor Schofield, also explained his view that the lack of an
“indigenous” population—meaning a community who decided to settle on a feature of their own
accord, as distinct from government or military personnel—may indicate that a feature cannot
sustain human habitation.408
419. The Philippines argues that the State practice on the interpretation of Article 121(3) is
inconsistent, but States generally accept that small, uninhabited, barren outcrops should not
generate full maritime zones, citing in particular (a) the United Kingdom’s renunciation of its
200-nautical-mile fishery zone around Rockall, in connection with its accession to the

403

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 85.

404

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 87.

405

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), p. 45; C. Schofield, et al., An Appraisal of the Geographical Characteristics
and Status of Certain Insular Features in the South China Sea (March 2015) (Annex 513).

406

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), pp. 8-9, p. 45.

407

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 77; (Day 4), pp. 36-37; Memorial, para. 5.106; D. Anderson, “Islands and
Rocks in the Modern Law of the Sea,” in United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982:
A Commentary, Vol. II, p. 313 (M. Nordquist, et. al. eds., 2002); R. Platzöder, Third United Nations
Conference on the Law of the Sea: Documents, Vol. IV, p. 222 (1987); United Nations, Office for Ocean
Affairs and the Law of the Sea, The Law of the Sea: Régime of Islands: Legislative History of Part VIII
(Article 121) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Part 8, pp. 44-45 (1988);
C. Schofield, “What’s at Stake in the South China Sea? Geographical and Geopolitical considerations,” in
Beyond Territorial Disputes in the South China Sea, p. 11 at p. 23 (2013); M. Gjetnes, “The Spratlys: Are
They Rocks or Islands?,” Ocean Development and International Law, Vol. 32, No. 2, p. 191 at p. 200
(2001).

408

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), p. 48.

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Convention, and (b) China’s own protests at Japan’s submission for an extended continental
shelf relating to Oki-no-Tori-shima.409
420. Recognising that the present case is not one of maritime delimitation, the Philippines also
suggests that the Tribunal could seek useful guidance from the approach of international courts
and tribunals in the delimitation context.410 The Philippines notes that features of comparable
nature, small size, and remoteness to those in the Spratlys have been “enclaved”, that is, given
no more than a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea, in a number of cases, including Maritime
Delimitation in the Black Sea, Territorial and Maritime Dispute (Nicaragua v. Colombia), the
Dubai/Sharjah Border Arbitration, Delimitation of the Continental Shelf Between the United
Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the French Republic and Delimitation of
the Maritime Boundary Between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal. 411 Such
enclaving has been done in order to achieve an “equitable result” in drawing a boundary line,
taking into account circumstances that are the same as those that “determine whether an insular
feature is a ‘rock’ under Article 121(3).” 412 According to the Philippines, the jurisprudence
“make[s] absolutely clear” that “in any future boundary delimitation in the South China Sea . . .
all of the Spratly high-tide features would be enclaved, and in no case given more than a
12-mile territorial sea.”413
421. The Philippines expresses concern that if any of the Spratly Islands were found to be fully
entitled islands and China remained determined to avoid any form of legally binding
adjudication or arbitration of the boundary, the dispute could be “frozen”. By contrast, the
Philippines argues, a determination that the features were only rocks would reduce the incentive
to “flex muscles and demonstrate sovereignty over minuscule features” that generate a
maximum entitlement of 12 nautical miles, and thus contribute to the “legal order and the
maintenance of peace in the South China Sea.”414 The Philippines appealed to the Tribunal’s
409

Memorial, paras. 5.28-5.33; Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp. 58, 89.

410

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 124.

411

Memorial, paras. 5.107-5.114; Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 124-127; Maritime Delimitation in the
Black Sea (Romania v. Ukraine), Judgment, ICJ Reports 2009, p. 61; Territorial and Maritime Dispute
(Nicaragua v. Colombia), Judgment, ICJ Reports 2012, p. 624; Dubai/Sharjah Border Arbitration,
Award of 19 October 1981, ILR, Vol. 91, p. 543; Delimitation of the Continental Shelf Between the
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the French Republic, Decision of 30 June
1977, RIAA, Vol. XVIII, p. 3; Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary Between Bangladesh and
Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh v. Myanmar), Judgment of 14 March 2012, ITLOS
Reports 2012.

412

Memorial, paras. 5.112-5.113.

413

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 127; (Day 4), pp. 10-11.

414

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 129; see also Written Responses of the Philippines, paras. 109-115
(11 March 2015).

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mandate to “promote the maintenance of legal order in respect of the relevant maritime areas,
and the avoidance or reduction of threats to international peace and security that inevitably
would emanate from a situation of such legal uncertainty,” in accordance with the UN Charter
and the Preamble of the Convention.415
422. Ultimately, the Philippines submits that the test of whether a feature constitutes a “rock” for the
purposes of Article 121(3) involves a “question of appreciation” in light of the natural
characteristics of a given feature. It should be an objective test, in the sense that it should not be
determined by any State’s own subjective assertions, but on the basis of evidence derived from
observations by identifiable, authoritative, and credible sources. 416 Beyond the essentials of
food, drinkable water, and shelter, certain factors, such as size, prior civilian habitation, and the
presence of productive soil, flora, and fauna might all be informative but not determinative. 417
For the Philippines, the interpretation and application of Article 121(3) thus requires “case-bycase determinations on the basis of the available facts, including the particular geographical
context.”418
(b)

Application to Features Identified in Submissions No. 3 and 7

423. The Philippines and its experts submit that all four of the high-tide features identified in its
Submissions No. 3 and 7—Scarborough Shoal, Johnson Reef, Cuarteron Reef, and Fiery Cross
Reef—are indisputably Article 121(3) rocks.419 Noting their tiny dimensions and the low height
to which they protrude above water, the Philippines draws similarities between these features
and Rock No. 32 of Colombia’s Quitasueño,420 which was held by the International Court of
Justice in Territorial and Maritime Dispute (Nicaragua v. Colombia) to be a rock for the
purposes of Article 121(3).421
424. Relying largely on aerial and satellite photography, as well as the Philippine, Chinese, UK, and
U.S. sailing directions, the Philippines considers all four features to be rocks incapable of
supporting human habitation.422 According to the Philippines, there is no evidence of drinkable
415

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 129.

416

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), p. 33.

417

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 88.

418

Written Responses of the Philippines, para. 107 (11 March 2016).

419

See Memorial, paras. 5.137, 7.31, 7.145; Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp. 17-18, 30-34; (Day 4), pp. 40,
50-52; Schofield Report, p. 18; Supplemental Written Submission, Vol. II, pp. 50, 80, 104, 160.

420

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp. 91-92.

421

Territorial and Maritime Dispute (Nicaragua v. Colombia), Judgment, ICJ Reports 2012, p. 624.

422

Memorial, paras. 5.89-5.95; Supplemental Written Submission, Vol. II, pp. 48-51, 78-81, 102-105, 158-161.

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water, food, or shelter materials on any of the four features.423 The Philippines observes that
other small, barren, and uninhabited protrusions like Quitasueño (Colombia), Rockall (UK),
Filfla (Malta), and Jabal al-Tayr and Zubayr (Yemen) have been treated by international courts
and tribunals as rocks or features unworthy of being taken into account in delimitations.424
425. Finally, the Philippines stresses that neither China’s recent island construction nor its earlier
installation of small artificial structures atop coral reefs, manned by government personnel
sustained entirely with external resources, can convert these features into fully entitled
islands.425
(c)

Application to Other Maritime Features

426. The Philippines concedes that the three largest features, Itu Aba, Thitu, and West York, “differ
from Scarborough Shoal, Johnson Reef, Cuarteron Reef, and Fiery Cross Reef in terms of their
area, natural conditions and small population,” but submits that these differences are “too minor
to elevate such small, insignificant and remote features” to the status of fully entitled islands.
According to the Philippines, none of the features in the Spratly Islands is capable, based on its
own natural elements, of sustaining both human habitation and economic life of their own.426
i.

Itu Aba

427. At the Hearing on the Merits, the Philippines summarised its view of the evidence concerning
Itu Aba as follows:
(1) there is no fresh water on Itu Aba suitable for drinking or capable of sustaining a
human settlement;
(2) there is no natural source of nourishment on the feature capable of sustaining a human
settlement;
(3) there is no soil on Itu Aba capable of facilitating any kind of agricultural production
that could sustain human habitation;
(4) there has never been a population on the feature that is indigenous to it;
(5) excluding military garrisons, there has never been human settlement of any kind on Itu
Aba;
(6) there was not even a military occupation prior to World War II

423

Memorial, para. 5.95.

424

Memorial, paras. 5.44-5.48.

425

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 94.

426

Memorial, paras. 5.96-5.114; Supplemental Written Submission, Vol. I, pp. 117-118, paras. 1-4;
Schofield Report, p. 18.

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(7) the Taiwanese troops that are garrisoned at Itu Aba are entirely dependent for their
survival on supplies from Taiwan, and apart from sunlight and air, they derive nothing
they need from the feature itself;
(8) no economic activity has been or is performed on Itu Aba. 427

428. The Philippines points particularly to the lack of drinkable water and the fact that the Taiwan
Authority of China has had to compensate for this through construction of desalination plants.428
The Philippines relies on a 1994 scientific study on “The Flora of Taipingtao (Aba Itu Island)”
(the “1994 Study”), prepared based on a field inspection by Taiwanese botanists whose work
was financed by the Taiwan Authority of China, and submits that its conclusions on water, soil,
and vegetation demonstrate the impossibility of sustaining human habitation.429
429. The Philippines acknowledges that in the nineteenth century, British vessels observed the
presence of fishermen on Itu Aba. But according to the Philippines, the presence of the
fishermen is conveyed as “very primitive and temporary” and “short-lived” and the fishermen’s
“inability to settle on Itu Aba only confirms the feature’s uninhabitability.”430 The Philippines
notes that the Japanese were the first to use the feature as a military base, during the Second
World War, but recalls that military occupation for the sole purpose of asserting sovereignty
does not suffice to prove capacity to sustain human habitation or an economic life. The
Philippines also observes that all attempts to extract commercial quantities of guano from the
Spratlys failed.431
430. When asked to comment on certain historical materials obtained by the Tribunal from the
archives of the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office that include descriptions and photographs
of Itu Aba and other features in the Spratly Islands, the Philippines argued that these materials

427

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), pp. 41-42. See also Memorial, paras, 5.96-5.97; Written Responses of the
Philippines, para.45 (11 March 2016).

428

Memorial, para. 5.97; Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp. 72, 111; (Day 4), pp. 28, 47, 50; see also
Responses of the Philippines to the Tribunal’s 1 April 2016 Request for Comments on Additional
Materials regarding the Status of Itu Aba, paras. 42, 51 (25 April 2016) (hereinafter “Written Responses
of the Philippines on Itu Aba (25 April 2016)”).

429

T.C. Huang, et. al., “The Flora of Taipingtao (Itu Aba Island),” Taiwania, Vol. 39, No. 1-2, p. 1 (1994)
(Annex 254).

430

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), p. 22; see also Written Responses of the Philippines to the Tribunal’s 1 April
2016 Request for Comments, 25 April 2016, paras. 18, 24, 33; Written Responses of the Philippines on
Itu Aba, paras. 27, 30 (25 April 2016); Written Responses of the Philippines on French Archive
Materials, paras. 10-12 (3 June 2016).

431

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 113; Supplemental Written Submission, Vol. II, p. 177; see also Written
Responses of the Philippines on Itu Aba, paras. 19-20 (25 April 2016); Written Responses of the
Philippines on French Archive Materials, para. 7 (3 June 2016).

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“support [its] conclusion that the feature is a rock as defined in Article 121(3).” 432 The
Philippines notes that the 1868 China Sea Directory describes Itu Aba as being “almost
completely devoid” of natural resources and frequented by fishermen having their permanent
residence in Hainan, not on Itu Aba itself. 433 The Philippines considers that the documents
obtained by the Tribunal confirm that subsequent Japanese attempts to cultivate or settle the
island were either unsuccessful or exclusively “military in nature”;434 that the feature remained
uninhabited, excepting a “brief” post-war Taiwanese occupation from 1946 to 1950; 435 and that
Itu Aba lacked both fresh water and high-quality soil.436
431. The Philippines likewise submits that various historical documents obtained by the Tribunal
from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the Archives Nationales d’Outre-Mer and
provided to the Parties for comment “confirm that Itu Aba and the other insular features
discussed in the French documents . . . lack the natural resources, including fertile soil and
freshwater, necessary to sustain human habitation or economic life.”437 The Philippines notes
that the Division Botanique à l’Institut des Recherches Agronomiques de L’Indochine visited Itu
Aba in 1936 and recorded that it was covered only partly with soil, and that the rest was coral
sand, guano and natural phosphate, and that the vegetation was very poor.438 According to the
Philippines, “[n]one of the native species cataloged by the visiting botanists are agricultural
crops capable of supporting human habitation” as they are “either inedible or have only limited
nutritional value.” 439 On this basis, the Philippines argues that Itu Aba is “incapable of
sustaining agricultural production.”440 The Philippines also points to “the lack of any discussion
of freshwater in any of the documents.” 441 Furthermore, the Philippines considers that the

432

Responses of the Philippines to the Tribunal’s 1 April 2016 Request for Comments on Materials from the
Archives of the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, para. 26 (28 April 2016) (hereinafter “Written
Responses of the Philippines on UKHO Materials (28 April 2016)”).

433

Written Responses of the Philippines on UKHO Materials, para. 27 (28 April 2016); China Sea Directory
Vol. II (1st ed. 1868), pp. 70-71.

434

Written Responses of the Philippines on UKHO Materials, paras. 28-29 (28 April 2016).

435

Written Responses of the Philippines on UKHO Materials, para. 30 (28 April 2016).

436

Written Responses of the Philippines on UKHO Materials, paras. 31-32 (28 April 2016).

437

Written Responses of the Philippines on French Archive Materials, para. 2 (3 June 2016).

438

Written Responses of the Philippines on French Archive Materials, paras. 14-15 (3 June 2016); Division
Botanique à l’Institut des Recherches Agronomiques de l’Indochine, “Visite Botanique au Récif Tizard,”
Bulletin Économique de l’Indochine, pp. 769, 773-774 (September-October 1936).

439

Written Responses of the Philippines on French Archive Materials, para. 18 (3 June 2016).

440

Written Responses of the Philippines on French Archive Materials, para. 13 (3 June 2016).

441

Written Responses of the Philippines on French Archive Materials, para. 20 (3 June 2016).

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archival material confirms that Itu Aba “had no permanent human population” and was not
recognised as “having any economic value.”442
432. When asked at the Hearing on the Merits to comment on more recent materials concerning Itu
Aba published by the Taiwan Authority, the Philippines noted that two books claimed only the
existence of “groundwater wells” without describing the water’s drinkability and depicted a
“skimming well”, which is used to extract relatively fresh water from the upper zone of a
fresh-saline aquifer in freshwater lenses.443 According to the Philippines:
Taiwan’s fancy photographs of a paved airstrip, communications equipment and various
buildings change nothing. They amount to no more than a manmade façade, a Potemkin
“island”. . . whose artifices serve mainly to divert attention from the true nature of the
feature: a remote dot of exposed coral that is incapable naturally of sustaining any human
habitation or economic life of its own. 444

433. The Philippines recalls that the Taiwan Authority never claimed maritime entitlement beyond
12 nautical miles from Itu Aba until after the Philippines initiated this arbitration.445
434. The Philippines suggests that the Taiwan Authority’s more recent public declarations and
publication of video of conditions on Itu Aba through the internet are attempts by the Taiwan
Authority to rebut the Philippines’ case and “put its best foot forward” in the context of this
arbitration. 446 The Philippines urges the Tribunal to treat with great caution the claims
presented by the Taiwan Authority as being unsupported by actual evidence, created specifically
for the purpose of litigation, and based on statements by officials with an interest in the outcome
of the proceedings. The Philippines asserts that the Taiwan Authority and China’s interests are
“aligned” in maximising Itu Aba’s potential maritime entitlements.447

442

Written Responses of the Philippines on French Archive Materials, paras. 5-6, 8-12 (3 June 2016).

443

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), p. 26. See Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of China, A Frontier in the
South China Sea: Biodiversity of Taiping Island, Nansha Islands (December 2014); Ministry of the
Interior of the Republic of China, Compilation of Historical Archives on the Southern Territories of the
Republic of China (July 2015); Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of China, Compilation of
Historical Archives on the Southern Territories of the Republic of China, p. 233 (July 2015).

444

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 114.

445

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), pp. 38-40; see also Written Responses of the Philippines, para. 46
(11 March 2016).

446

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), p. 25.

447

Written Responses of the Philippines, paras. 51-53 (11 March 2016); Armed Activities on the Territory of
the Congo (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Uganda), Judgment, ICJ Reports 2005, p. 168;
Territorial and Maritime Dispute between Nicaragua and Honduras in the Caribbean Sea (Nicaragua v.
Honduras), Judgment, ICJ Reports 2007, p. 659; Dispute Concerning Delimitation of the Maritime
Boundary Between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh/Myanmar), Judgment of
14 March 2012, ITLOS Reports 2012.

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435. According to the Philippines, earlier statements of Taiwanese officials and academics reference
the need for regular external supplies to sustain the garrison and thus undermine the Taiwan
Authority’s claim that Itu Aba has the natural resources to be self-sufficient.448 The Philippines
observes that the first civilian to register residence on the island only did so in 2016 in the midst
of the Taiwan Authority’s public relations campaign to “aggrandize” the feature.449
436. The Philippines also rejects the Taiwan Authority’s claims about “rich supply of groundwater”
from five wells on the island. It suggests that the Taiwan Authority’s failure to refer to the 1994
Study must “be taken to mean that [it] has no effective response.”450 The Philippines recalls that
four of the wells are “skimming wells”. According to the Philippines, even the carefully
skimmed water from the best well produces limited amounts of water that verges close to
minimal potability.451 The Philippines submits an expert analysis of Itu Aba’s groundwater
resources by Dr. Ryan T. Bailey.452 Taking into account the size of the island, its composition,
and the annual rainfall, Dr. Bailey concludes that “any freshwater lens on Itu Aba is, at best, a
fragile source of freshwater that, if disturbed or affected by periods of low rainfall, would
become completely exhausted.”453 The Philippines concludes that “even if Itu Aba does have a
marginal freshwater lens beneath it, which is questionable and unsupported by any actual
evidence tendered by Taiwan, it requires constant and substantial supplementation by artificial
means just to keep Taiwan’s few troops alive.”454
437. The Philippines also takes issue with the Taiwanese claims concerning soil on Itu Aba, which it
says are contradicted by the 1994 Study. The Philippines submits from Dr. Peter Motavalli an
Expert Report on Soil Resources and Potential Self-Sustaining Agricultural Production on Itu
Aba and a Second Supplemental Expert Report on Soil Resources and Potential Self-Sustaining
Agricultural Production on Itu Aba. 455 Dr. Motavalli describes the calcareous soils and
highlights several constraints for self-sustaining agricultural production on Itu Aba,456 queries
448

Written Responses of the Philippines, para. 59 (11 March 2016).

449

Written Responses of the Philippines, para. 65 (11 March 2016).

450

Written Responses of the Philippines, para. 69 (11 March 2016).

451

Written Responses of the Philippines, para. 76 (11 March 2016).

452

First Bailey Report.

453

First Bailey Report, p. 10.

454

Written Responses of the Philippines, para. 86 (11 March 2016).

455

First Motavalli Report; P.P. Motavalli, Second Supplemental Expert Report on Soil Resources and
Potential Self-Sustaining Agricultural Production on Itu Aba (2 June 2016) (Annex 934) (hereinafter
“Second Motavalli Report”).

456

First Motavalli Report, pp. 3, 7-10; see also Dr. L. Xi, “Summary of Land of Guangdong Nansha
Islands,” Soil Quarterly Vol. 6, No. 3 (1947) (Annex 885).

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whether the soil for vegetables might have been introduced, and notes the problems of pests and
diseases.457 In his supplemental export report, Dr. Motavalli provides observations on a 1936
report by the Division Botanique à l’Institut des Recherches Agronomiques de L’Indochine
obtained by the Tribunal from the National Library of France and concludes that:
the 1936 Report’s analysis of an “[a]verage soil sample” on Itu Aba confirms my prior
conclusions that the soil is sandy, calcareous, has a high pH, and lacks some major
nutrients. In light of these characteristics, I conclude that Itu Aba’s soil resources cannot
sustain a meaningful level of agricultural production without the use of soil amendments
and other major interventions.458

The Philippines expresses doubts about the agricultural capability of Itu Aba to even feed a
single person.
438. The Philippines considers the Taiwan Authority’s submission of additional materials concerning
the status of Itu Aba, such as a “Position Paper on ROC South China Sea Policy Republic of
China (Taiwan)” and an “Amicus Curiae Submission by the Chinese (Taiwan) Society of
International Law,” similarly unavailing. Even on the basis of the materials submitted by the
Taiwan Authority, the Philippines argues that Itu Aba has neither a longstanding history of
human habitation nor possesses sufficient fresh water and soil resources to sustain such a
population, and notes that any attempts made to carry out “meaningful economic activity” on Itu
Aba uniformly “ended in failure.”459 The Philippines attaches a supplemental expert report by
Dr. Ryan T. Bailey, who questions the Taiwan Authority’s measurements of water quality and
salt concentration on Itu Aba’s wells. 460 The Philippines considers the historical account
presented by the Taiwan Authority relevant insofar as it undermines China’s claim to exclusive
rights within the ‘nine-dash line’.461
439. Finally, the Philippines objects to the Taiwan Authority’s arguments that if the Tribunal were to
find Itu Aba to be a rock, “serious issues could arise, as several nations would no longer be able
to claim EEZs of certain islands.”462 The Philippines notes that the Taiwan Authority’s position
457

First Motavalli Report, pp. 5, 8; see also Dr. L. Xi, “Summary of Land of Guangdong Nansha Islands,”
Soil Quarterly Vol. 6, No. 3 (1947) (Annex 885).

458

Second Motavalli Report, p. 5.

459

Written Responses of the Philippines on Itu Aba, para. 11 (25 April 2016); see also Written Responses of
the Philippines on UKHO Materials, para. 27 (28 April 2016); Written Responses of the Philippines on
French Archive Materials, paras. 2-20 (3 June 2016).

460

Dr. Ryan T. Bailey, Supplemental Report on Groundwater Resources Analysis of Itu Aba (20 April 2016)
(Annex 911) (hereinafter “Second Bailey Report”).

461

Written Responses of the Philippines on Itu Aba, para. 95 (25 April 2016).

462

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China (Taiwan), Taiping Island is an Island, not a Rock,
and the ROC Possesses Full Rights Associated with an Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf
in accordance with UNCLOS, Press Release No. 023 (23 January 2016) (Annex 875).

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is undermined by China’s own stance with respect to Japan’s claim to an exclusive economic
zone around Oki-no-Tori-shima. It also recalls that restraining excessive State claims is one of
the purposes of Article 121(3) and international law in general.463 The Philippines echoes its
appeal to the Tribunal to avoid a situation of dangerous uncertainty:
Finding that a tiny feature like Itu Aba could generate entitlement to a continental shelf and
EEZ would intensify the already dangerous sovereignty disputes in the area (and potentially
elsewhere in the world) and encourage further damage to the delicate natural environment
of the South China Sea by encouraging States to undertake further efforts to solidify their
claims. Such an outcome would be inconsistent with the core objects and purposes of the
Convention, namely to ‘promote the peaceful uses of the seas and oceans, the equitable and
efficient utilization of their resources, the conservation of their living resources, and the
study, protection and preservation of the marine environment.’ It would be equally
inconsistent with the central object of Part XV: the peaceful settlement of disputes. 464

440. The Philippines submits that there are two ways for the Tribunal to avoid these threats to peace:
either find Itu Aba to be a rock, or “enjoin both Parties, pending agreement on delimitation,
from exercising any rights in respect of any feature in the Spratly Islands beyond 12 [miles].”465
ii.

Thitu, West York, and Other High-Tide features

441. The Philippines, which has occupied Thitu since 1970, recalls that it only claims a
12-nautical-mile territorial sea from Thitu and considers it to be a rock for purposes of
Article 121(3). The Philippines notes that there is a well on Thitu that contains “brackish but
drinkable water,” but the water must be filtered for safe consumption. The local population on
Thitu was transplanted there and has been maintained by the Philippine Government since 2001.
It is only possible to grow vegetables there because soil is continually imported from Palawan
and supplies are shipped by naval vessel to personnel monthly.466 The Philippines argues that
without the “umbilical cord” of the Philippines’ support, Thitu is—like Itu Aba—incapable of
sustaining the habitation of even the small community that the Philippines maintains there. 467
The Philippines’ experts take the same view.468
442. The Philippines notes that, at 0.21 square kilometres, West York is even smaller than Thitu and
Itu Aba. Like Thitu, the Philippines considers West York to be a “rock” unable to sustain
human habitation or economic life. According to the Philippines, there is no potable water and

463

Written Responses of the Philippines, para. 109 (11 March 2016).

464

Written Responses of the Philippines, para. 114 (11 March 2016).

465

Written Responses of the Philippines, para. 115 (11 March 2016).

466

Memorial, para. 5.99.

467

Memorial, para. 5.105.

468

Schofield Report, p. 28.

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agriculture is impossible because the salinity of the water retards growth of introduced plants.
There is no population, only a small observation post staffed by a few soldiers sustained by
outside supplies. 469 Accordingly, the Philippines submits that West York does not have
conditions sufficient to sustain human habitation or an economic life.
443. The Philippines and its experts make similar submissions about the status of other high-tide
features in the Spratly Islands, including North Danger Reef, South Danger Reef, Nanshan
Island, Sand Cay, Loaita Island, and Swallow Reef.470
444. The Philippines considers the materials obtained by the Tribunal from the archives of the UK
Hydrographic Agency to confirm that the Philippines has correctly categorised the remaining
features as “rock[s] as defined in Article 121(3).”471 The Philippines notes that the China Sea
Directory fails to mention the existence of any inhabitants on the features,472 with other reports
describing only the faintest traces of human presence, such as wells with “brackish” water, as on
Loaita Island,473 or foundations of a “small hut”, as in the case of Thitu.474 The Philippines also
notes the near-complete lack of vegetation on the features in question.475
445. Finally, the Philippines also considers that documents obtained by the Tribunal from France’s
National Library and National Overseas Archives confirm that “the other features in the South
China Sea are incapable of sustaining human habitation or economic life of their own.”476 In
this regard, the Philippines cites a 1949 internal French Government report which states that
these “islands have no fixed population and carry only stunted vegetation.”477

469

Memorial, para. 5.101.

470

Supplemental Written Submission, Vol. I, pp. 117-119; see generally Supplemental Written Submission,
Vol. II; Schofield Report, pp. 18-68; Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 3), pp. 5-10.

471

Written Responses of the Philippines on UKHO Materials, paras. 39 (Loaita Island), 60 (Nanshan Island),
71 (Sand Cay), 91 (Swallow Reef), 95 (Thitu), 98 (West York) (28 April 2016).

472

Written Responses of the Philippines on UKHO Materials, para. 96 (28 April 2016); China Sea
Directory, Vol. II, p. 72 (1st ed. 1868).

473

Written Responses of the Philippines on UKHO Materials, para. 62 (28 April 2016); HMS Herald,
Amendments to Sailing Directions for West York, Nanshan, Flat Island, and Mischief Reef,
UKHO Ref. H3911/1938.

474

Written Responses of the Philippines on UKHO Materials, para. 97 (28 April 2016); HMS Herald, Report
of 1937 Visit to Thitu and Itu Aba, UKHO Ref. H2499/1937.

475

See, e.g., Written Responses of the Philippines on UKHO Materials, paras. 62, 71, 96 (28 April 2016);
China Sea Directory, Vol. II, p. 72 (1st ed. 1868); HMS Herald, Amendments to Sailing Directions for
West York, Nanshan, Flat Island, and Mischief Reef, UKHO Ref. H3911/1938; Report of the Results of
an Examination by the Officers of HMS Rambler of the Slopes and Zoological Condition of Tizard and
Macclesfield Banks, UKHO Ref. HD106, p. 17 (1888).

476

Written Responses of the Philippines on French Archive Materials, para. 21 (3 June 2016).

477

Written Responses of the Philippines on French Archive Materials, para. 21 (3 June 2016).

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4.

China’s Position

446. In connection with the Philippines’ Submissions No. 3, 5, and 7, China’s Position Paper states
that “the Philippines is putting the cart before the horse by requesting the Arbitral Tribunal to
determine, even before the matter of sovereignty is dealt with, the issue of compatibility of
China’s maritime claims with the Convention.”478 China has repeated this position in more
recent statements, arguing that
According to international law, the entity that enjoys maritime entitlements is the State that
owns maritime features, rather than the maritime features themselves. Each maritime
entitlement is explicitly tied to the State that it belongs to. In its provisions on territorial
sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone, and continental shelf, the UNCLOS
explicitly grants the maritime entitlements to the “coastal State” of relevant maritime zones
in question. It is meaningless to indulge in the empty talk on the legal status and
entitlements of maritime features without making a preliminary decision on who is the
“coastal State” and in separation from State sovereignty. The legal status and entitlements
of maritime features do not constitute actual disputes in themselves, and there is no
precedent in international law deciding otherwise. 479

447. The Tribunal rejected that argument in its Award on Jurisdiction, 480 holding that it was not
necessary to first decide questions of sovereignty and “that it is entirely possible to approach the
Philippines’ Submissions from the premise . . . that China is correct in its assertion of
sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal and the Spratlys.”481
448. China also objected that the Philippines had selected to seek specific determinations on the
status of only nine maritime features, principally those on which China currently maintains a
presence.

China posited that “[i]t is plain that, in order to determine China’s maritime

entitlements based on the Nansha Islands under the Convention, all maritime features
comprising the Nansha Islands must be taken into account.” 482 China pointed out that the
Philippines had omitted from its requested determinations the “largest island in the Nansha
Islands, Taiping Dao, which is currently controlled by the Taiwan authorities of China,” as well
as features that the Philippines itself occupies.483

478

China’s Position Paper, para. 18.

479

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Briefing on the South China Sea Arbitration
Initiated by the Philippines: Xu Hong, Director General of Department of Treaty and Law
(19 May 2016).

480

Award on Jurisdiction, paras. 400-404.

481

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 153.

482

China’s Position Paper, para. 21.

483

China’s Position Paper, paras. 19, 22.

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449. China considers that it “has, based on the Nansha Islands as a whole, territorial sea, exclusive
economic zone, and continental shelf,” 484 but has not explicitly set out its position on the
application of Article 121(3) to each of the maritime features identified in the Philippines’
Submissions. China’s general silence in this regard can be contrasted with (a) the positions of
States such as Viet Nam, Indonesia, and the Philippines485 that high-tide features in the Spratly
Islands are “rocks” for purposes of Article 121(3) and should only be entitled to a 12-nauticalmile territorial sea; (b) the position implied in Malaysia and Viet Nam’s Joint Submission to the
CLCS that sets out official coordinates for the 200-nautical-mile limit of the continental shelves
of the two States, drawn only from basepoints adjacent to Borneo and the mainland of Viet Nam
and not from any feature in the Spratlys;486 and (c) recent assertions by the Taiwan Authority
that Itu Aba “indisputably qualifies as an ‘island’ according to the specifications of Article 121
. . . and can sustain human habitation and economic life of its own” and “is thus categorically
not a ‘rock’.”487
450. Nevertheless, China’s positions on the status of some features, as well as the meaning of
Article 121 generally, can be discerned from its own laws, diplomatic exchanges, and public
statements.

484

Letter from the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to the Netherlands to the individual
members of the Tribunal (3 June 2016), enclosing Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of
China, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s Remarks on Relevant Issue about Taiping Dao
(3 June
2016),
available
at
<www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/
t1369189.shtml>; see also Note Verbale from the People’s Republic of China to the Secretary-General of
the United Nations, No. CML/8/2011 (14 April 2011) (Annex 201).

485

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 103; Note Verbale from the Republic of Indonesia to the Secretary-General
of the United Nations, No. 480/POL-703/VII/10 (8 July 2010) (Annex 197); Socialist Republic of Viet
Nam, Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam Transmitted to
the Arbitral Tribunal in the Proceedings Between the Republic of the Philippines and the People’s
Republic of China, p. 5 (14 December 2014) (Annex 468).

486

Malaysia and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Joint Submission to the Commission on the Limits of the
Continental Shelf, in Respect of the Southern Part of the South China Sea (6 May 2009) (Annex 223); see
also Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf
pursuant to Article 76, paragraph 8 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea: Partial
Submission in Respect of Vietnam’s Extended Continental Shelf: North Area (VNM-N) (April 2009)
(Annex 222).

487

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China (Taiwan), Statement on the South China Sea,
No. 001, para. 3 (7 July 2015) (Annex 656); Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China
(Taiwan), ROC Government Reiterates its Position on South China Sea Issues, No. 240, para. 3
(31 October 2015) (Annex 657); see also Republic of China (Taiwan), Position Paper on ROC
South China Sea Policy, 21 March 2016, available at <www.mofa.gov.tw/Upload/RelFile/
1112/156185/12467dfc-3b8c-4392-9096-57f84ff31f1c.pdf >; “Amicus Curiae Submission by the Chinese
(Taiwan) Society of International Law” (23 March 2016), available at <csil.org.tw/home/wpcontent/uploads/2016/03/SCSTF-Amicus-Curiae-Brief-final.pdf>; Office of the President, Republic of
China (Taiwan), President Ma’s Remarks at International Press Conference regarding Taiping Island in
Nansha Islands (23 March 2016), available at <english.president.gov.tw/Default.aspx?
tabid=491&itemid=36980&rmid=2355>.

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(a)

China’s Statements on the Meaning of Article 121(3)

451. China has made diplomatic representations that reveal its position and “serious concerns” about
the operation of Article 121(3) in practice, notably in the context of protesting Japan’s
November 2008 claim of an extended continental shelf from Oki-no-Tori-shima.488 Oki-noTori-shima is an atoll, located in the western Pacific Ocean between Okinawa and the Northern
Mariana Islands, of which only two small portions naturally protrude above water at high tide.
452. In a Note Verbale to the UN Secretary-General dated 6 February 2009, submitted in response to
Japan’s submission to the CLCS concerning the limits of the extended continental shelf, China
expressed its view that when States exercise their rights to establish the outer limits of their
continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles, they “shall also have the obligation to ensure
respect for the extent of the International Seabed Area . . . which is the common heritage of
mankind, and not to affect the overall interests of the international community as a whole.”489
China emphasised that all States “shall implement the Convention in its entirety and ensure the
integrity of the Convention, in particular, ensure that the extent of the Area is not subject to any
illegal encroachment.”490 With respect specifically to Oki-no-Tori-Shima, China went on to
state as follows:
It is to be noted that the so-called Oki-no-Tori Shima Island is in fact a rock as referred to
in Article 121(3) of the Convention. Therefore, the Chinese Government wishes to draw
. . . attention . . . to the inconformity with the Convention with regard to the inclusion of the
rock of Oki-no-Tori in Japan’s Submission.
Article 121(3) of the Convention stipulates that, “Rocks which cannot sustain human
habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or
continental shelf.” Available scientific data fully reveal that the rock of Oki-no-Tori, on its
natural conditions, obviously cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of its own,
and therefore shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf. Even less shall it
have the right to the extended continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles.491

453. A few months later, in advance of the 19th Meeting of States Parties to the Convention in
May 2009, China proposed that the agenda include a supplementary item entitled “International
Seabed Area as the common heritage of mankind and article 121 of the United Nations

488

Japan, Submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf pursuant to Article 76,
paragraph 8 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea: Executive Summary
12 November 2008) (Annex 228).

489

Note Verbale from the People’s Republic of China to the Secretary-General of the United Nations,
No. CML/2/2009 (6 February 2009) (Annex 189)

490

Note Verbale from the People’s Republic of China to the Secretary-General of the United Nations,
No. CML/2/2009 (6 February 2009) (Annex 189)

491

Note Verbale from the People’s Republic of China to the Secretary-General of the United Nations,
No. CML/2/2009 (6 February 2009) (Annex 189); Note Verbale from the People’s Republic of China to
the Secretary-General of the United Nations, No. CML/12/2009 (13 April 2009).

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Convention on the Law of the Sea.”492 In an explanatory note to its proposal, China recalled the
general obligation of good faith in Article 300 of the Convention and stated that in submissions
concerning the outer limits of the continental shelf:
[C]oastal States should comply fully with the Convention, taking into account the overall
interests of the international community, and should not interpret the Convention in a
biased way, nor put their own interests above the overall interests of the international
community, nor encroach upon the Area as the common heritage of mankind.493

454. China noted that most States had abided by the provisions of the Convention and made “serious
efforts to safeguard the overall interests of the international community when claiming their
rights.” However, China observed that:
there is also some case in which the Convention is not abided by, for example, claims on
the continental shelf within and beyond 200 nautical miles with an isolated rock in the
ocean as base point. Recognition of such claim will set a precedent which may lead to
encroachment upon the high seas and the Area on a larger scale. Therefore, the
international community should express serious concerns on this issue. 494

455. China quoted the provisions of Article 121(3) and stated:
How to implement this provision relates to the interpretation and application of important
principles of the Convention, and the overall interests of the international community, and
is a key issue for the proper consideration of relevant submission concerning the outer
limits of the continental shelf, and the safeguarding of the common heritage of mankind. 495

China argued that there was a need for “some appropriate guidelines” on the issue of the legal
implication of Article 121 on the protection of the common heritage of mankind.
456. During the 15th Session of the International Seabed Authority in June 2009, China raised the
issue of rocks under Article 121(3) in the context of particular continental shelf submissions and
“argued that the International Seabed Authority was the right forum to discuss matter since it

492

Note Verbale from the People’s Republic of China to the Secretary-General of the United Nations
(21 May 2009), reproduced in United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Meeting of States
Parties, Proposal for the Inclusion of a Supplementary Item in the Agenda of the Nineteenth Meeting of
States Parties, UN Doc. SPLOS/196, (22 May 2009) (Annex 668).

493

Note Verbale from the People’s Republic of China to the Secretary-General of the United Nations
(21 May 2009), reproduced in United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Meeting of States
Parties, Proposal for the Inclusion of a Supplementary Item in the Agenda of the Nineteenth Meeting of
States Parties, UN Doc. SPLOS/196, (22 May 2009) (Annex 668).

494

Note Verbale from the People’s Republic of China to the Secretary-General of the United Nations
(21 May 2009), reproduced in United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Meeting of States
Parties, Proposal for the Inclusion of a Supplementary Item in the Agenda of the Nineteenth Meeting of
States Parties, UN Doc. SPLOS/196, p. 2, para. 3 (22 May 2009) (Annex 668).

495

Note Verbale from the People’s Republic of China to the Secretary-General of the United Nations
(21 May 2009), reproduced in United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Meeting of States
Parties, Proposal for the Inclusion of a Supplementary Item in the Agenda of the Nineteenth Meeting of
States Parties, UN Doc. SPLOS/196 (22 May 2009) (Annex 668).

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had the mandate to protect the common heritage of mankind.”496 Referring to Article 121(3),
the Chinese representative “urged member States to be guided by the letter and spirit of the
Convention to avoid any encroachment on the common heritage of mankind.”497
457. China reiterated its position on Oki-no-Tori-shima in a 3 August 2011 Note Verbale to the
UN Secretary General, after Korea had also registered protest. China stated that it “consistently
maintains that, the rock of Oki-no-Tori, on its natural conditions, obviously cannot sustain
human habitation or economic life of its own” and therefore under Article 121(3), the rock of
Oki-no-Tori “shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.” 498 China went on to
state that:
the application of Article 121(3) of the Convention relates to the extent of the International
Seabed Area as the common heritage of mankind, relates to the overall interests of the
international community, and is an important legal issue of general nature. To claim
continental shelf from the rock of Oki-no-Tori will seriously encroach upon the Area as the
common heritage of mankind.499

458. Through the statements recounted above, China has demonstrated a robust stance on the
importance of Article 121(3). It has repeatedly alluded to the risks to “the common heritage of
mankind” and “overall interests of the international community” if Article 121(3) is not
properly applied to small features that on their “natural conditions” obviously cannot sustain
human habitation or economic life of their own. China has not, however, assessed those factors
in any specific analysis of most of the individual features in the South China Sea, as discussed
below.
(b)

China’s Position on the Status of Scarborough Shoal

459. China claims sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal, which in China is known as “Huangyan
Dao” and treated as part of the Zhongsha Islands.500

496

Delegation of the People’s Republic of China, Statement at the 15th Session of the International Seabed
Authority (June 2009), summarised in International Seabed Authority, Press Release, UN Doc. SB/15/14,
p. 3 (4 June 2009), available at <www.isa.org.jm/sites/default/files/files/documents/sb-15-14.pdf>.

497

Delegation of the People’s Republic of China, Statement at the 15th Session of the International Seabed
Authority (June 2009), summarised in International Seabed Authority, Press Release, UN Doc. SB/15/14,
p. 3 (4 June 2009), available at <www.isa.org.jm/sites/default/files/files/documents/sb-15-14.pdf>.

498

See Note Verbale from the People’s Republic of China to the Secretary-General of the United Nations,
No. CML/59/2011 (3 August 2011) (Annex 203).

499

Note Verbale from the People’s Republic of China to the Secretary-General of the United Nations,
No. CML/59/2011 (3 August 2011) (Annex 203). China also expressed concern that, were the CLCS to
make recommendations on an extended continental shelf claim from Oki-no-Tori before its legal status
was been made clear, there would be “adverse impact on the maintenance of an equal and reasonable
order for oceans.”

500

China’s Position Paper, para.6

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460. In China’s 1958 Declaration of the Government of the People’s Republic of China on China’s
Territorial Sea, China declared a twelve mile nautical sea from “all territories . . . including . . .
the Zhongsha Islands.”501 China’s 1992 Law on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone
also included the Zhongsha Islands in China’s territorial land which generated a 12-nauticalmile territorial sea.502
461. In conjunction with its ratification of the Convention, on 7 June 1996, China declared an
exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles and a continental shelf in accordance with the
provisions of the Convention and reaffirmed its sovereignty over the islands listed in Article 2
of its 1992 Law on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone.503 According to China’s 1998
Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf Act, China’s exclusive economic zone and
continental shelf are to be measured 200 nautical miles from “the baselines from which the
breadth of the territorial sea is measured.”504 China has not, however, published “the baselines
from which the breadth of the territorial sea” for Scarborough Shoal is measured. While China
has stated that it is entitled to an exclusive economic zone and continental shelf from the Spratly
Islands, under the relevant provisions of the Convention and the above-referenced legislation, it
has made no such claim specifically with respect to Scarborough Shoal.505
462. Various statements of Chinese Foreign Ministry officials, however, indicate that China
considers Scarborough Shoal to be at least a high-tide feature within the definition of “island”
under Article 121(1) of the Convention. For example, on 22 May 1997, a press briefing entitled
“Chinese Foreign Ministry Statement regarding Huangyandao” stated:

501

People’s Republic of China, Declaration of the Government of the People’s Republic of China on China’s
Territorial Sea, para. 1 (4 September 1958), reproduced in Collection of the Sea Laws and Regulations of
the People’s Republic of China (3rd ed., 2001).

502

People’s Republic of China, Law on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, Article 2 (25 February
1992) available at <www.npc.gov.cn/englishnpc/Law/2007-12/12/content_1383846.htm>.

503

United Nations, Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary-General, Vol. III, Part 1,
Chapters XXII-XXIX, and Part 2, UN Doc. ST/LEG/SER.E/26, p. 450 (1 April 2009).

504

People’s Republic of China, Law on the Exclusive Economic Zone and the Continental Shelf, art. 2
(26 June 1998) available at < www.npc.gov.cn/englishnpc/Law/2007-12/11/content_1383573.htm>. On
15 May 1996, China issued a Declaration of the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the
Baselines of the Territorial Sea, setting out coordinates for the baselines from which its territorial sea
would be measured, but this did not include baselines from Scarborough Shoal’s territorial sea. See
United Nations, Office of Legal Affairs, Division of Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, Law of the
Sea Bulletin No. 32, pp. 37-40 (1996). China has also subsequently promulgated the coordinates for the
baselines from its claim to a territorial sea from Diaoyu Dao and its Affiliated Islands. See United
Nations, Office of Legal Affairs, Division of Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, Law of the Sea
Bulletin No. 80, pp. 30-31 (2013).

505

Cf. Note Verbale from the People’s Republic of China to the Secretary-General of the United Nations,
No. CML/8/2011 (14 April 2011) (Annex 201).

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Huangyan Dao has always been Chinese territory and its legal position has been long
determined. According to Article 121 of the UNCLOS, Huangyandao is surrounded by
water on all sides and is a natural dry land area that is higher than the water level during
high tide; it is not a shoal or submerged reef that does not rise above the water all year
round.
...
The Philippines has never challenged the position that Huangyandao is China’s territory.
Recently, the Philippine side suddenly claims that it has maritime jurisdiction over
Huangyandao because the island is in the 200 nm EEZ of the Philippines. This position
violates the principles of international law and the UNCLOS. . . . The issue of
Huangyandao is an issue of territorial sovereignty; the development and exploitation of the
EEZ is a question of maritime jurisdiction, the nature of the two issues are different . . . .
According to international law, under a situation where is an overlapping of EEZ’s among
concerned countries, the act of a country to unilaterally proclaim its 200 EEZ is null and
void. The scope of the EEZ’s of the Philippines and China should be resolved through
negotiations based on the principles and regulations of international laws.506

463. The above statement expresses China’s view that Scarborough Shoal is an island, without
engaging in an analysis of whether it might be a rock for purposes of Article 121(3) of the
Convention. China does, however, allude to a situation of two “overlapping EEZ[]s” rather than
a situation of an exclusive economic zone overlapping only with a territorial sea.

As

Scarborough Shoal lies more than 200 nautical miles from any other high-tide feature claimed
by China, the reference to “overlapping EEZ[]s” suggests that China may consider Scarborough
Shoal to be entitled to an exclusive economic zone.
464. In July 1998, according to a record of the “10th Philippines-China Foreign Ministry
Consultations” held in Manila on 30 July 1998, the Chinese Foreign Minister expressed the
view that “the Huangyan Dao is not a sand bank but rather an island,”507 in apparent correction
of a view expressed earlier by the Philippine Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs that
Scarborough Shoal was a shoal, “not an island susceptible of sovereign territorial claim.” 508
Again, this statement only reveals China’s position with respect to the classification of the
feature as a high-tide feature for purposes of Article 121(1) as distinct from a low-tide elevation
or submerged shoal. It does not address whether the feature falls into the “rocks” exception of
Article 121(3).
465. China has, however, taken certain actions that suggest to the Tribunal that China considers
Scarborough Shoal to be a fully entitled island. As discussed above in connection with China’s
claim to historic rights (see paragraphs 209 to 211), in 2012 China banned some fishing in the
506

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Chinese Foreign Ministry Statement Regarding
Huangyandao (22 May 1997) (Annex 106).

507

Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, Record of Proceedings: 10th Philippines–
China Foreign Ministry Consultations, p. 23 (30 July 1998) (Annex 184).

508

Memorandum from the Undersecretary for Policy, Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the
Philippines, to the President of the Republic of the Philippines, p. 4 (27 May 1997) (Annex 25).

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South China Sea north of 12° north latitude. China has also objected to the Philippines’ grant of
petroleum concessions in the West Calamian Block (SC-58) adjacent to the coast of Palawan,
much of which lies beyond 200 nautical miles from any high-tide feature claimed by China,
except for Scarborough Shoal. China did not elaborate the basis for these actions, which may
have been based either on a theory of historic rights or on a claim to an exclusive economic
zone from Scarborough Shoal.
(c)

China’s Position on the Status of Itu Aba

466. According to China, Itu Aba is a fully entitled island, entitled to an exclusive economic zone
and continental shelf. On 3 June 2016, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson stated as
follows:
Over the history, Chinese fishermen have resided on Taiping Dao for years, working and
living there, carrying out fishing activities, digging wells for fresh water, cultivating land
and farming, building huts and temples, and raising livestock. The above activities are all
manifestly recorded in Geng Lu Bu (Manual of Sea Routes) which was passed down from
generation to generation among Chinese fishermen, as well as in many western navigation
logs before the 1930s.
The working and living practice of Chinese people on Taiping Dao fully proves that
Taiping Dao is an “island” which is completely capable of sustaining human habitation or
economic life of its own. The Philippines’ attempt to characterize Taiping Dao as a “rock”
exposed that its purpose of initiating the arbitration is to deny China’s sovereignty over the
Nansha Islands and relevant maritime rights and interests. 509

467. This express position was previously also suggested by China’s comments on the Taiwan
Authority’s statements “stressing that Taiping Dao [Itu Aba] meets the definition of island
according to UNCLOS and is therefore eligible for possessing exclusive economic zone,
continental shelf and other maritime rights and interests.” When asked to comment, China’s
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson responded with the following remarks:
The Nansha Islands including Taiping Dao have been China’s territory since ancient times.
Chinese people have long been living and working there continuously. China takes the
Nansha Islands as a whole when claiming maritime rights and interests, and Chinese people
across the Strait all have the responsibility to safeguard the property handed down from our
ancestors. China is firmly against attempts of the Philippines to unilaterally deny China’s
territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea through
arbitration. 510
509

Letter from the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to the Netherlands to the individual
members of the Tribunal (3 June 2016), enclosing Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of
China, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s Remarks on Relevant Issue about Taiping Dao
(3 June 2016) available at <www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/t1369189.shtml>.

510

See Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua
Chunying’s Regular Press Conference (24 March 2016), <www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/
xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/2511_665403/t1350552.shtml>; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s
Republic of China, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s Regular Press Conference
(23 March 2016) available at <http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/

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468. In this statement, China did not contradict the characterisation by the Taiwan Authority of Itu
Aba as a fully entitled island, but rather asserted that its people have lived and worked on Itu
Aba continuously, which mirrors the elements of “human habitation” and “economic life” in
Article 121(3) of the Convention.
(d)

China’s Position on the Status of Other Features in the Spratly Islands

469. While China has not made statements on the Article 121 status of other specific features in the
Spratly Islands, it has made general statements that the Spratly Island group as a whole generate
full maritime entitlements. In its Position Paper, China argued that the Philippines’ selection of
particular features was “an attempt at denying China’s sovereignty over the Nansha Islands as a
whole.”511
470. In a Note Verbale to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 14 April 2011, China
reiterated its sovereignty claims to “the islands in the South China Sea and the adjacent waters”
and stated that it “enjoys sovereign rights and jurisdiction over relevant waters as well as the
seabed and subsoil thereof.” 512 China added that:
under the relevant provisions of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the
Sea, as well as the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Territorial Sea and the
Contiguous Zone (1992) and the Law on the Exclusive Economic Zone and the Continental
Shelf of the People’s Republic of China (1998), China’s Nansha Islands is fully entitled to
Territorial Sea, Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Continental Shelf.513

471. China repeated this statement verbatim in its Position Paper. 514 However, given that the
Position Paper “does not express any position on the substantive issues related to the
subject-matter of the arbitration,”515 no further insights on China’s position on the application of
Article 121 to specific features in the Spratly Islands can be gleaned from it.
472. As far as the Tribunal is aware, China has not made specific statements about the status of
Johnson Reef, Cuarteron Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Gaven Reef (North), or McKennan Reef for
purposes of Article 121(3) of the Convention. There are no press briefings about those features
t1350212.shtml>; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Foreign Ministry
Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s Regular Press Conference (28 January 2016), available at
<www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/t1336013.shtml>.
511

China’s Position Paper, para. 19.

512

Note Verbale from the People’s Republic of China to the Secretary-General of the United Nations,
No. CML/8/2011 (14 April 2011) (Annex 201).

513

Note Verbale from the People’s Republic of China to the Secretary-General of the United Nations,
No. CML/8/2011 (14 April 2011) (Annex 201).

514

China’s Position Paper, para. 21.

515

China’s Position Paper, para. 2.

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comparable to the 1997 statement about Scarborough Shoal 516 or China’s recent statement
concerning Itu Aba. 517 Nor has China made any comparable statements regarding the other,
more significant high-tide features in the Spratlys, with the exception of Itu Aba.
5.

The Tribunal’s Considerations

473. The Tribunal must interpret and apply Article 121 of the Convention in order to make decisions
with respect to the Philippines’ Submissions No. 3, 5, and 7, as well as to determine its
jurisdiction with respect to the Philippines’ Submissions No. 8 and 9.
474. Article 121 has not previously been the subject of significant consideration by courts or arbitral
tribunals 518 and has been accorded a wide range of different interpretations in scholarly
literature.519 As has been apparent in the course of these proceedings, the scope of application
of its paragraph (3) is not clearly established. Accordingly, the Tribunal will consider the
interpretation of this provision before turning to its application to the maritime features in the
South China Sea.
(a)

Interpretation of Article 121 of the Convention

475. The critical element of Article 121 for the Tribunal is its paragraph (3), which provides that
“[r]ocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no
exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.”

516

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Chinese Foreign Ministry Statement Regarding
Huangyandao (22 May 1997) (Annex 106).

517

Letter from the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to the Netherlands to the individual
members of the Tribunal (3 June 2016), enclosing Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of
China, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s Remarks on Relevant Issue about Taiping Dao
(3 June
2016),
available
at
<www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/
t1369189.shtml>.

518

See, e.g., Territorial and Maritime Dispute (Nicaragua v. Colombia), Judgment, ICJ Reports 2012,
p. 624.

519

See, e.g., D.W. Bowett, The Legal Regime of Islands in International Law (1979); E.D. Brown, “Rockall
and the Limits of National Jurisdiction of the UK: Part 1,” Marine Policy Vol. 2, p. 181 at pp. 206-207
(1978); J.M. Van Dyke & R.A. Brooks, “Uninhabited Islands: Their Impact on the Ownership of the
Oceans’ Resources,” Ocean Development and International Law, Vol. 12, Nos. 3-4, p. 265 (1983);
R. Kolb, “The Interpretation of Article 121, Paragraph 3 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of
the Sea: Rocks Which Cannot Sustain Human Habitation or Economic Life of Their Own,” French
Yearbook of International Law, Vol. 40, p. 899 (1994); D. Anderson, “Islands and Rocks in the Modern
Law of the Sea,” in United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982: A Commentary, Vol. VI,
pp. 307-21 (M. Nordquist, gen. ed., 2002); J.L. Jesus, “Rocks, New-born Islands, Sea Level Rise, and
Maritime Space,” in J. Frowein, et al., eds., Negotiating for Peace, p. 579 (2003).

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476. In order to interpret this provision, the Tribunal must apply the provisions of the Vienna
Convention on the Law of Treaties.520 The general rule of interpretation is set out in Article 31
of the Vienna Convention and provides that a treaty “shall be interpreted in good faith in
accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to the terms of the treaty in their context and
in the light of its object and purpose.”521 Further, “any subsequent practice in the application of
the treaty which establishes the agreement of the parties regarding its interpretation” shall be
taken into account. Pursuant to Article 32 of the Vienna Convention, as supplementary means
of interpretation, recourse may be had to the preparatory work of the treaty to confirm its
meaning, or determine the meaning when it is otherwise ambiguous, obscure, or leads to a
manifestly absurd or unreasonable result.522
477. In approaching the interpretation of Article 121, the Tribunal will separately review the text, its
context, the object and purpose of the Convention, and the travaux préparatoires, before setting
out the conclusions that, in the Tribunal’s view, follow with respect to the meaning of the
provision.
i.

The Text of Article 121(3)

478. Article 121(3) contains several textual elements that merit consideration, including the terms
(a) “rocks”, (b) “cannot”, (c) “sustain”, (d) “human habitation”, (e) “or”, and (f) “economic life
of their own.” Other aspects of the meaning of Article 121(3) arise from its context in the
Convention and are discussed subsequently (see paragraphs 507 to 520 below).

(a)

“Rocks”

479. The use in Article 121(3) of the term “rocks” raises the question of whether any geological or
geomorphological criteria were intended. In other words, was Article 121(3) intended to apply
only to features that are composed of solid rock or that are otherwise rock-like in nature?
480. In the Tribunal’s view, no such restriction necessarily follows from the use of the term in
Article 121(3). The dictionary meaning of “rock” does not confine the term so strictly, and
rocks may “consist of aggregates of minerals . . . and occasionally also organic matter . . . . They
vary in hardness, and include soft materials such as clays.”523 This was also the conclusion
520

Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, art. 31(1).

521

Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, art. 31(1).

522

Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, art. 32.

523

“Rock,” Oxford English Dictionary (Annex 818).

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reached by the International Court of Justice in Territorial and Maritime Dispute (Nicaragua v.
Colombia) when it held Colombia’s Quitasueño, a “minuscule” protrusion of coral, to be an
Article 121(3) rock:
International law defines an island by reference to whether it is ‘naturally formed’ and
whether it is above water at high tide, not by reference to its geological composition . . .
The fact that the feature is composed of coral is irrelevant. 524

481. Moreover, any contrary interpretation imposing a geological criteria on Article 121(3) would
lead to an absurd result. Within Article 121, rocks are a category of island. An island is defined
as a “naturally formed area of land,” without any geological or geomorphological qualification.
Introducing a geological qualification in paragraph (3) would mean that any high-tide features
formed by sand, mud, gravel, or coral—irrespective of their other characteristics—would
always generate extended maritime entitlements, even if they were incapable of sustaining
human habitation or an economic life of their own. Such features are more ephemeral than a
geological rock and may shift location or appear and disappear above high water as a result of
conditions over time. A geological criterion would thus accord greater entitlements to less
stable and less permanent features. This cannot have been the intent of the Article.
482. The result of this interpretation is that “rocks” for the purposes of Article 121(3) will not
necessarily be composed of rock. The Tribunal takes the opportunity to note that the name of a
feature will likewise have no bearing on whether it qualifies as a rock for purposes of
Article 121(3). A feature may have “Island” or “Rock” in its name and nevertheless be entirely
submerged. Conversely a feature with “Reef” or “Shoal” in its name may have protrusions that
remain exposed at high tide. In any event, the name of a feature provides no guidance as to
whether it can sustain human habitation or an economic life of its own.
(b)

“cannot”

483. The use of the word “cannot” in Article 121(3) indicates a concept of capacity. Does the feature
in its natural form have the capability of sustaining human habitation or an economic life? If
not, it is a rock. This enquiry is not concerned with whether the feature actually does sustain
human habitation or an economic life. It is concerned with whether, objectively, the feature is
apt, able to, or lends itself to human habitation or economic life. 525 That is, the fact that a
524

Territorial and Maritime Dispute (Nicaragua v. Colombia), Merits Judgment, ICJ Reports 2012, p. 624 at
p. 645, para. 37.

525

According to the Philippines, “the other authentic texts [of Article 121] reflect the same meaning as the
English term “cannot”: Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 70. The Philippines notes that “[i]n Chinese,
‘cannot’ is ‘bu neng’, which means ‘not able’ or ‘unable’. Also, for example, the Spanish text uses the
phrase ‘no aptas’; again, ‘not able’, ‘unable.” Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 71.

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feature is currently not inhabited does not prove that it is uninhabitable. The fact that it has no
economic life does not prove that it cannot sustain an economic life.
484. Nevertheless, historical evidence of human habitation and economic life in the past may be
relevant for establishing a feature’s capacity. If a known feature proximate to a populated land
mass was never inhabited and never sustained an economic life, this may be consistent with an
explanation that it is uninhabitable. Conversely, positive evidence that humans historically
lived on a feature or that the feature was the site of economic activity could constitute relevant
evidence of a feature’s capacity.
(c)

“sustain”

485. The ordinary meaning of sustain generally means to “support, maintain, uphold.” The Oxford
English Dictionary defines it as “to keep in existence, maintain; spec. to cause to continue in a
certain state for an extended period or without interruption; to keep or maintain at the proper
level, standard, or rate; to preserve the status of.”526
486. When used in respect “of land, a place, etc.,” to sustain means “to provide or be the source of
the food, drink, etc., necessary to keep (a person) alive and healthy); (of food, drink, etc.) to
give essential nourishment to (a person).”527 Stated otherwise, it means “to support or maintain
(life) by providing food, drink, and other necessities.” 528 When used in connection with
sustaining a person, sustain means to “maintain . . . in life and health; to provide with food,
drink and other substances necessary for remaining alive; to feed, to keep.” 529 When used in
connection with sustaining an activity, “sustain” is defined to mean “To keep in existence,
maintain; spec. to cause to continue in a certain state for an extended period or without
interruption.”530
487. The Tribunal considers that the ordinary meaning of “sustain” has three components. The first
is the concept of the support and provision of essentials. The second is a temporal concept: the
support and provision must be over a period of time and not one-off or short-lived. The third is
a qualitative concept, entailing at least a minimal “proper standard”. Thus, in connection with
sustaining human habitation, to “sustain” means to provide that which is necessary to keep

526

“Sustain,” Oxford English Dictionary (Annex 819).

527

“Sustain,” Oxford English Dictionary (Annex 333).

528

“Sustain,” Oxford English Dictionary (Annex 333).

529

“Sustain,” Oxford English Dictionary (Annex 819).

530

“Sustain,” Oxford English Dictionary (Annex 819).

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humans alive and healthy over a continuous period of time, according to a proper standard. In
connection with an economic life, to “sustain” means to provide that which is necessary not just
to commence, but also to continue, an activity over a period of time in a way that remains viable
on an ongoing basis.
(d)

“human habitation”

488. The ordinary meaning of “human habitation” is the “action of dwelling in or inhabiting as a
place of residence; occupancy by inhabitants” or “a settlement”. 531 “Inhabit” is defined as
meaning “to dwell in, occupy as an abode, to live permanently or habitually in (a region,
element, etc.); to reside in (a country, town, dwelling, etc.).”532
489. In the Tribunal’s view, the use in Article 121(3) of the term “habitation” includes a qualitative
element that is reflected particularly in the notions of settlement and residence that are inherent
in that term. The mere presence of a small number of persons on a feature does not constitute
permanent or habitual residence there and does not equate to habitation. Rather, the term
habitation implies a non-transient presence of persons who have chosen to stay and reside on the
feature in a settled manner. Human habitation would thus require all of the elements necessary
to keep people alive on the feature, but would also require conditions sufficiently conducive to
human life and livelihood for people to inhabit, rather than merely survive on, the feature.
490. Forms of human habitation and livelihood vary greatly, and in an international instrument such
as the Convention, no particular culture or mode of habitation should be assumed for the
purpose of Article 121(3). Certain factors, however, remain constant wherever habitation by
humans is concerned. At a minimum, sustained human habitation would require that a feature
be able to support, maintain, and provide food, drink, and shelter to some humans to enable
them to reside there permanently or habitually over an extended period of time.
491. In the Tribunal’s view, the term “habitation” also generally implies the habitation of the feature
by a group or community of persons. No precise number of persons is specified in the Article,
but providing the basic necessities for a sole individual would not typically fall within the
ordinary understanding of human habitation: humans need company and community over
sustained periods of time.
492. Beyond these basic requirements—necessary to provide for the daily subsistence and survival of
a number of people for an indefinite time—the Tribunal considers that the text of Article 121(3)
531

“Habitation,” Oxford English Dictionary (Annex 815).

532

“Inhabit,” Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (5th ed., 2002).

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does not directly indicate the threshold that would separate settled human habitation from the
mere presence of humans.

Nor does the text of Article 121(3) elucidate the physical

characteristics of a feature that would be necessary to sustain the more settled mode of human
habitation, rather than merely ensuring human survival.
(e)

“or”

493. Article 121(3) provides that “[r]ocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of
their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.” The Tribunal must
consider whether the criteria of capacity to sustain “human habitation” and an “economic life of
[its] own” are both required for a feature to be entitled to an exclusive economic zone and
continental shelf, or whether one will suffice. The Philippines urges the Tribunal to adopt the
former interpretation, arguing that:
As a matter of logic, the combination of a negative verb form with the disjunctive “or”
creates a cumulative requirement. It is, in essence, a double negative. It follows that to be
entitled to an EEZ and continental shelf, an insular feature must be able both to sustain
human habitation and to sustain economic life of its own. 533

494. The Tribunal agrees with the Philippines regarding the importance of logic in the interpretation
of this provision, but not with the conclusion advanced by the Philippines. Applied to the text
of Article 121(3), formal logic would hold that “[r]ocks which cannot sustain (human habitation
or economic life of their own)” is equal to “[r]ocks which cannot sustain human habitation [and
which cannot sustain] economic life of their own.” Formal logic would therefore require that a
feature fail both criteria before it would be disentitled to an exclusive economic zone and
continental shelf. The text creates a cumulative requirement, as the Philippines argues, but the
negative overall structure of the sentence means that the cumulative criteria describe the
circumstances in which a feature will be denied such maritime zones. The logical result
therefore is that if a feature is capable of sustaining either human habitation or an economic life
of its own, it will qualify as a fully entitled island.
495. The Tribunal is conscious, however, that formal logic accords imperfectly with linguistic usage
at the best of times, even among legal drafters, and is hesitant to accord decisive weight to
logical construction alone. Here, it could well be argued that a natural reading of the phrase
would include an implied second negation, omitted only to reduce the length of an already
somewhat cumbersome clause: in other words, that “[r]ocks which cannot sustain human
habitation or [which cannot sustain] economic life of their own shall have no exclusive
economic zone or continental shelf.”
533

In the Tribunal’s view, however, this possibility is

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 84.

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foreclosed by the remainder of the paragraph. The first clause of Article 121(3) is not the only
negation of a disjunction within the provision. The same construction is repeated in the second
half of the paragraph where it provides that such rocks “shall have no exclusive economic zone
or continental shelf.” Here, however, the logical construction is unequivocally correct: the
phrase can only be interpreted to mean that a rock which fails to meet the criteria of the
paragraph “shall have no exclusive economic zone [and shall have no] continental shelf.” The
alternative, in which rocks falling short of the Convention’s threshold would generate an
entitlement to one or the other of an exclusive economic zone or a continental shelf—but not
both—is manifestly absurd and contrary to the clear intent of the Article.
496. The formulation of the remainder of Article 121(3) thus serves to resolve any doubt regarding
the interpretation of the phrase “[r]ocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life
of their own.” The Tribunal does not consider it plausible that the drafters of the Convention
would have employed a strictly logical construction for one clause within the parallel structure
of a single sentence and to have departed from such construction for the other. Accordingly, the
Tribunal concludes that, properly interpreted, a rock would be disentitled from an exclusive
economic zone and continental shelf only if it were to lack both the capacity to sustain human
habitation and the capacity to sustain an economic life of its own.

Or, expressed more

straightforwardly and in positive terms, an island that is able to sustain either human habitation
or an economic life of its own is entitled to both an exclusive economic zone and a continental
shelf (in accordance with the provisions of the Convention applicable to other land territory).
497. The Tribunal observes, however, that economic activity is carried out by humans and that
humans will rarely inhabit areas where no economic activity or livelihood is possible. The two
concepts are thus linked in practical terms, regardless of the grammatical construction of
Article 121(3). Nevertheless, the text remains open to the possibility that a feature may be able
to sustain human habitation but offer no resources to support an economic life, or that a feature
may sustain an economic life while lacking the conditions necessary to sustain habitation
directly on the feature itself. This may particularly be the case where multiple islands are used
in concert to sustain a traditional way of life, as described by the delegate from Micronesia
during the Third UN Conference.534 The Philippines suggests that an interpretation allowing for
534

The Micronesian delegate stated that:
Small islands which have no land resources to speak of need the benefits of an economic
zone and the sea’s resources within it more desperately than any other territories. It would
not be equity to deny the sea’s resources to those who need them most.
Suggestions have also been made that uninhabited islands should not have a full economic
zone. Almost all of our high islands, and almost all of our atolls, made up of low islands,
are inhabited. But some islands are inhabited only part of the year, while others are used

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such possibilities would detract from the purpose of the exclusive economic zone regime, which
is to accord rights and responsibilities to the populations of the lands that generate the zone. A
converse risk is also apparent, however, and too strict a definition, developed in the context of
particular islands, could well deprive other populations, making use of islands in a different
way, of the resources on which they have traditionally depended.
(f)

“economic life of their own”

498. The final element of the text of Article 121(3) is the phrase “economic life of their own.” In the
Tribunal’s view, two elements of this phrase require consideration. First, the text makes use of
the particular term of “economic life”. Second, the text makes clear that the features must be
capable of sustaining not simply “economic life”, but an economic life “of their own”.
499. The ordinary meaning of “economic” is “relating to the development and regulation of the
material resources of a community”535 and may relate to a process or system by which goods
and services are produced, sold and bought, or exchanged. The term “life” suggests that the
mere presence of resources will be insufficient and that some level of local human activity to
exploit, develop, and distribute those resources would be required. The Tribunal also recalls
that “economic life” must be read bearing in mind the time component of “sustain”. A one-off
transaction or short-lived venture would not constitute a sustained economic life. The phrase
presupposes ongoing economic activity.

Although the drafters chose not to import any

reference to “value”, the need for the economic activity to be sustained over a period of time
does presuppose a basic level of viability for the economic activity.
500. The “of their own” component is essential to the interpretation because it makes clear that a
feature itself (or group of related features) must have the ability to support an independent
economic life, without relying predominantly on the infusion of outside resources or serving
purely as an object for extractive activities, without the involvement of a local population. 536 In
not as residences but for fishing or in some functional way other than for permanent
habitation. They are all the same as vital a part of our economy and livelihood as some
islands that may have permanent dwellings on them, but may have little or no fish resources
near them. We do not believe that the criteria of inhabitation or size are practical or
equitable.
Statement by the Chairman of the Joint Committee of the Congress of Micronesia submitted on behalf of
the Congress by the United States of America, UN Doc. A/CONF.62/L.6 (27 August 1974).
535

“Economic,” Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (5th ed., 2002).

536

According to the Philippines: “In Chinese, ‘of its own’, the phrase used is ‘qibenshen de jingji
shenghuo’, in which the term ‘qibenshen’ means ‘it itself’, and it proceeds and modifies the phrase
‘economic life’, ‘jingji shenghuo’. It is therefore clear that whatever ‘economic life’ means, it must be
particular to and localised on the feature itself.” Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 79.

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the Tribunal’s view, for economic activity to constitute the economic life of a feature, the
resources around which the economic activity revolves must be local, not imported, as must be
the benefit of such activity. Economic activity that can be carried on only through the continued
injection of external resources is not within the meaning of “an economic life of their own.”
Such activity would not be the economic life of the feature as “of its own”, but an economic life
ultimately dependent on support from the outside.

Similarly, purely extractive economic

activities, which accrue no benefit for the feature or its population, would not amount to an
economic life of the feature as “of its own”.
501. In this respect, the Tribunal must particularly consider the role of economic activity centred on
the sea areas adjacent to the feature. In other words, is economic activity derived from a
possible exclusive economic zone, continental shelf, or territorial sea of a feature sufficient to
endow it with economic life?
502. In the Tribunal’s view, economic activity derived from a possible exclusive economic zone or
continental shelf must necessarily be excluded. Article 121(3) is concerned with determining
the conditions under which a feature will—or will not—be accorded an exclusive economic
zone and continental shelf. It would be circular and absurd if the mere presence of economic
activity in the area of the possible exclusive economic zone or continental shelf were sufficient
to endow a feature with those very zones.
503. A different calculus applies with respect to the territorial sea. Here, no circularity would result
as any high-tide feature, regardless of its status under Article 121(3), will suffice to generate a
territorial sea. Nevertheless, Article 121(3) does require that the economic life be linked to the
feature as its own. In the Tribunal’s view, this phrase requires a link between the economic life
and the feature itself, rather than merely its adjacent waters. Accordingly, economic activity in
the territorial sea could form part of the economic life of a feature, provided that it is somehow
linked to the feature itself, whether through a local population or otherwise. Distant fisherman
exploiting the territorial sea surrounding a small rock and making no use of the feature itself,
however, would not suffice to give the feature an economic life of its own. Nor would an
enterprise devoted to extracting the mineral resources of the seabed adjacent to such a feature
and making no use of the feature itself.
(g)

Conclusions Drawn from the Text of Article 121(3)

504. Despite the complexity apparent in Article 121(3), the Tribunal considers that a number of
propositions follow from the text itself:

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(a)

First, the use of the term “rock” does not require that a feature be composed of rock in the
geologic sense in order to fall within the scope of the provision.

(b)

Second, the use of the term “cannot” makes clear that the provision concerns the
objective capacity of the feature to sustain human habitation or economic life. Actual
habitation or economic activity at any particular point in time is not relevant, except to
the extent that it indicates the capacity of the feature.

(c)

Third, the use of the term “sustain” indicates both time and qualitative elements.
Habitation and economic life must be able to extend over a certain duration and occur to
an adequate standard.

(d)

Fourth, the logical interpretation of the use of the term “or” discussed above indicates that
a feature that is able to sustain either human habitation or an economic life of its own will
be entitled to an exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

505. At the same time, the Tribunal considers that the text is not specific with respect to the threshold
separating human habitation from the mere extended presence of humans. A qualitative aspect
is apparent, but the text offers little guidance as to where this line should be drawn. Similarly,
the text does not permit an easy distinction between economic activity and an economic life,
although the phrase “of their own” does serve to exclude certain forms of activity that are
entirely dependent on external resources, devoted to using a feature as an object for extractive
activities without the involvement of a local population, or which make use solely of the waters
adjacent to a feature.
506. Article 31 of the Vienna Convention calls for the interpretation of “the terms of the treaty in
their context and in the light of its object and purpose.” It is to those latter elements that the
Tribunal now turns.
ii.

The Context of Article 121(3) and the Object and Purpose of the Convention

507. In the Tribunal’s view, two aspects of the context of Article 121(3) require consideration. First,
rocks and fully entitled islands exist in the context of a system of classifying features that
includes fully entitled islands, rocks, low-tide elevations, and submerged features.
Article 121(3) must accordingly be interpreted in conjunction with the other paragraphs of
Article 121 and in conjunction with Article 13 concerning low-tide elevations. Second, as
Article 121(3) concerns the circumstances in which a feature will be denied entitlements to an
exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, it must be interpreted in the context of those

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maritime areas and in light of the purpose behind the introduction of the exclusive economic
zone.
(a)

The Context of Islands, Rocks, and Low-Tide Elevations

508. As discussed above in connection with the status of features as above or below water
(see paragraphs 305 to 306), Article 13 and Article 121 both apply to a “naturally formed area
of land.” Just as a low-tide elevation or area of seabed cannot be legally transformed into an
island through human efforts, the Tribunal considers that a rock cannot be transformed into a
fully entitled island through land reclamation. The status of a feature must be assessed on the
basis of its natural condition.
509. In addition to maintaining the structure apparent across Articles 13 and 121, this reading is
consistent with the object and purpose of Article 121(3). If States were allowed to convert any
rock incapable of sustaining human habitation or an economic life into a fully entitled island
simply by the introduction of technology and extraneous materials, then the purpose of
Article 121(3) as a provision of limitation would be frustrated. It could no longer be used as a
practical restraint to prevent States from claiming for themselves potentially immense maritime
space. In this regard, the Tribunal agrees with the Philippines that “[a] contrary rule would
create perverse incentives for States to undertake such actions to extend their maritime zones to
the detriment of other coastal States and/or the common heritage of mankind.” 537 Were a
feature’s capacity to sustain allowed to be established by technological enhancements, then
“every high-tide feature, no matter . . . its natural conditions, could be converted into an island
generating a 200-mile entitlement if the State that claims it is willing to devote and regularly
supply the resources necessary to sustain a human settlement.”538
510. Accordingly, the Tribunal understands the phrase “cannot sustain” to mean “cannot, without
artificial addition, sustain.” This reading is consistent with the “naturally formed” qualification
of the definition of “island” and the words “of their own” which qualify “an economic life”.
511. As noted above with respect to low-tide elevations, many of the high-tide features in the Spratly
Islands have been subjected to substantial human modification as large installations and airstrips
have been constructed on them. Desalination facilities have been installed and tillable soil
introduced. In some cases, it is now difficult to observe directly the original status of the feature
in its natural state. In such circumstances, the Tribunal considers that the Convention requires
537

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 72.

538

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 73.

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that the status of a feature be ascertained on the basis of its earlier, natural condition, prior to the
onset of significant human modification, taking into account the best available evidence of the
previous status of the high-tide features, before intensive modification.
(b)

The Link between Article 121(3) and the Purpose of the Exclusive
Economic Zone

512. As noted above, the Tribunal considers that a close analysis of the text of Article 121(3) sheds
some light on what will—and what will not—suffice for the purposes of that provision.
Ultimately, however, the Tribunal finds that the plain text of the words “human habitation” and
“an economic life of its own” offers limited guidance as to the character or scale of activity that
would satisfy the requirements of the Article. Here, the meaning of the text of Article 121(3) is
shaped by its context within the Convention and the inherent connection between this provision
and the concept of the exclusive economic zone. Under the 1958 Geneva Conventions, the
rights and jurisdiction of States were limited to the territorial sea and the continental shelf and
nothing akin to Article 121(3) was provided for. The genesis of that Article is inextricably
linked with the expansion of coastal State jurisdiction through the exclusive economic zone.
513. As discussed already in connection with the Tribunal’s consideration of historic rights in the
South China Sea, the purpose of the exclusive economic zone that emerges from the history of
the Convention (see paragraphs 248 to 254 above) was to extend the jurisdiction of States over
the waters adjacent to their coasts and to preserve the resources of those waters for the benefit of
the population of the coastal State.
514. These objectives are apparent in the various regional declarations made prior to the Third UN
Conference by the States that were the principal proponents of expanded coastal State
jurisdiction:
(a)

Within Latin America, the 1952 Santiago Declaration by Chile, Ecuador, and Peru linked
the expansion of maritime zones to the obligation of governments “to ensure for their
peoples the necessary conditions of subsistence, and to provide them with the resources
for their economic development.”539

(b)

Similarly, the 1970 Montevideo and Lima declarations emphasised “that ties of
geographic, economic and social nature bind the sea, the land and man who inhabits it,

539

Declaration on the Maritime Zone, signed at Santiago, 18 August 1952, 1976 UNTS 326 (Chile, Ecuador
and Peru).

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from which there arises a legitimate priority in favor of littoral peoples to benefit from the
natural resources offered to them by their maritime environment.”540
(c)

In Africa, the conclusions adopted at the African States Regional Seminar on the Law of
the Sea, held at Yaoundé from 20 to 30 June 1972, emphasised that “African States have
equally the right to establish beyond the Territorial Sea an Economic Zone over which
they will have an exclusive jurisdiction for the purpose of control regulation and national
exploitation of the living resources of the Sea and their reservation for the primary benefit
of their peoples and their respective economies . . . .”541

(d)

Finally, in 1973, the Organization of African Unity adopted the Addis Ababa declaration,
setting out draft articles for various aspects of the law of the sea and recording its
conviction “that African countries have a right to exploit the marine resources around the
African continent for the economic benefit of African peoples.”542

515. These objectives are also apparent in the positions taken by coastal developing States
throughout the negotiations of the Seabed Committee and the Third UN Conference, and were
emphasised equally by certain developed States with a particular dependence on fisheries.543
Ultimately, the articles of the Convention concerning the exclusive economic zone were (as
with much of the Convention) a compromise and intended to balance the interests of the peoples
of coastal developing States with the interests of the traditional maritime States and those States
with long-range fishing industries that opposed the expansion of coastal State jurisdiction. The
principal impetus for expanding such jurisdiction in the first instance, however, is unequivocally
linked with the interest of coastal States in preserving marine resources for the benefit of their
people.

A particular emphasis on the needs of developing States is also recorded in the

Preamble to the Convention, which notes that the achievement of a legal order for the oceans
540

The Declaration of Montevideo on Law of the Sea, signed at Montevideo, Uruguay, 8 May 1970
(Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Panama, Peru, Nicaragua, and Uruguay), reproduced in
9 ILM 1081 (1970); see also Declaration of Latin American States on the Law of the Sea, Lima,
4-8 August 1970 (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador,
Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Peru, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Uruguay), reproduced in 10 ILM 207
(1971).

541

Conclusions in the General Report of the African States Regional Seminar on the Law of the Sea, held in
Yaoundé, 20-30 June 1972, reproduced in 12 ILM 210 (1973).

542

Declaration of the Organization of African Unity on the issues of the Law of the Sea, 1973, reproduced
as UN Doc. A/CONF.62/33.

543

See, e.g., Committee on the Peaceful Uses of the Sea-Bed and the Ocean Floor Beyond the Limits Of
National Jurisdiction, Sub-Committee II, “Summary Record of the Twenty-Seventh Meeting,”,
UN Doc. A/AC.138/SC.II/SR.27, p. 25 at p. 40 (22 March 1972) (Statement of the Representative of
Iceland); Committee on the Peaceful Uses of the Sea-Bed and the Ocean Floor Beyond the Limits Of
National Jurisdiction, Sub-Committee II, “Summary Record of the Fortieth Meeting,” 4 August 1972,
UN Doc. A/AC.138/SC.II/SR.40, p. 43 at p. 44 (Statement of the Representative of Norway).

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through the Convention would “contribute to the realization of a just and equitable international
economic order which takes into account the interests and needs of mankind as a whole and, in
particular, the special interests and needs of developing countries, whether coastal or
land-locked.”
516. As a counterpoint to the expanded jurisdiction of the exclusive economic zone, Article 121(3)
serves to prevent such expansion from going too far. It serves to disable tiny features from
unfairly and inequitably generating enormous entitlements to maritime space that would serve
not to benefit the local population, but to award a windfall to the (potentially distant) State to
have maintained a claim to such a feature. Given this context, the meaning attributed to the
terms of Article 121(3) should serve to reinforce, rather than counter, the purposes that the
exclusive economic zone and Article 121(3) were respectively intended to serve.
517. In the Tribunal’s view, this is best accomplished by recognising the connection between the
criteria of “human habitation” and the population of the coastal State for the benefit of whom
the resources of the exclusive economic zone were to be preserved. This is not to suggest that
the purpose of endowing an inhabited island with an exclusive economic zone would be
narrowly intended to preserve the resources of the zone for the population of that island.
Rather, it is that without human habitation (or an economic life), the link between a maritime
feature and the people of the coastal State becomes increasingly slight.
518. The same connection was recognised during the Seabed Committee and can be seen in the
remarks of the representative of Peru, who noted that:
It was obvious that the 200-mile limit was the maximum limit and not the only one, since
there were regions in which it could not be applied; nor should it be applied to more or less
uninhabited islands, since its main justification lay not in the existence of a territory but in
the presence of the population which inhabited it, whose needs should be satisfied through
the use of the resources available in its environs. 544

519. This point was reiterated during the Third UN Conference by Ambassador Koh of Singapore,
who later assumed the Presidency of the Conference, when he observed that:
The rationale for the proposal that coastal States should have the right to establish an
economic zone was essentially based upon the interests of the people and the desire to
marshal the resources of ocean space for their development. . . . However, it would be
unjust, and the common heritage of mankind would be further diminished, if every island,
irrespective of its characteristics, was automatically entitled to claim a uniform economic
zone. Such an approach would give inequitable benefits to coastal States with small or
uninhabited islands scattered over a wide expanse of the ocean. The economic zone of a

544

Committee on the Peaceful Uses of the Seabed and the Ocean Floor beyond the Limits of National
Jurisdiction,
Sub-Committee
II,
“Summary
Record
of
the
Fifty-first
Meeting,”
UN Doc. A/AC.138/SC.II/SR.51, p. 43 at p. 46 (9 March 1973) (Statement of the Representative of Peru).

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barren rock would be larger than the land territory of many States and larger than the
economic zones of many coastal States. 545

A similar view was expressed at the close of the Conference by the representative of Colombia
when he noted that “Rocks are entitled only to a territorial sea since they cannot sustain human
habitation or economic life of their own. This is logical. It is a ‘package’ which results from
the view that these maritime spaces have been granted to benefit the inhabitants, with an
economic concept.”546
520. In this context, the Tribunal considers that the human habitation with which the drafters of
Article 121(3) were concerned was the habitation by a portion of the population for whose
benefit the exclusive economic zone was being introduced. Taken together with notions of
settlement and residence and the qualitative aspect inherent in the term habitation, it should be
understood to refer to the habitation of a feature by a settled group or community for whom the
feature is a home.
iii.

The Travaux Préparatoires of Article 121(3)

521. The Tribunal considers that further examination of the circumstances that led to the adoption of
Article 121 is warranted for the light it sheds on the purpose of the provision itself.
(a)

The History of Article 121(3)

522. An early predecessor definition of “island” was introduced at the Imperial Conference of 1923
in order to harmonise marine policy across the British Empire. Resolution 4 of the Conference
clarified that the territorial sea would extend three miles from the coastline of “the mainland and
also that of islands. The word ‘islands’ covers all portions of territory permanently above water
in normal circumstances and capable of use or habitation.” 547 An explanatory memorandum
accompanying the Resolution stated that the phrase “capable of use” had been adopted as a
compromise, but was intended to mean “capable, without artificial addition, of being used
through all seasons for some definite commercial or defence purpose,” and that “capable of
545

“Summary
Records
of
Meetings
of
the
Second
Committee,
39 th
Meeting,”
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.39 at p. 285, para. 72 (14 August 1974) (Statement of the Representative of
Singapore), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, Volume II
(Summary Records of Meetings of the First, Second and Third Committees, Second Session).

546

“189th Plenary Meeting,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/SR.189, p. 66 at p. 83, para. 251 (8 December 1982)
(Statement of the Representative of Colombia), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference
on the Law of the Sea, Volume XVI (Summary Records, Plenary, First and Second Committees, as well as
Documents of the Conference, Eleventh Session).

547

Imperial Conference 1923, Report of Inter-Departmental Committee on the Limits of Territorial Waters
(27 September 1923).

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habitation” should mean “capable, without artificial addition, of permanent human habitation.”
The explanatory memorandum recognised that “these criteria will in many cases admit of
argument, but nothing more definite could be arrived at” and no criteria could be selected
without being “open to some form of criticism.”548
523. The United Kingdom sought to introduce similar criteria for islands at the 1930 League of
Nations Hague Codification Conference, when it proposed to limit the category of features
entitled to a territorial sea to pieces of “territory surrounded by water and in normal
circumstances permanently above high water. It does not include a piece of territory not
capable of occupation and use.”549 Another group of States proposed instead that an island be
any naturally formed part of the earth’s surface above water at low tide, with no requirement of
capability for use or occupation. The compromise suggested by the preparatory committee to
the conference (although never adopted into any formal instrument) was to “allow[] an island
(i.e., an isolated island) to have its own territorial waters only if it is above water at high tide,”
but to “tak[e] island where are above low-water mark into account when determining the base
line for the territorial waters of another island or the mainland, if such islands be within those
waters.”550
524. The International Law Commission adopted a similar definition in its 1956 Articles Concerning
the Law of the Sea, which provided that “every island has its own territorial sea” and defined an
island as “an area of land surrounded by water, which in normal circumstances is permanently
above high water mark.”551 A British proposal to insert that an island be “capable of effective
occupation and control” was rejected in the course of the ILC’s discussions, due to concerns
that any feature could be transformed into an island simply by installing a radio station or
weather observation post.552
525. A modified version of the ILC’s text was included in Article 10 of the 1958 Convention on the
Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, which recognised a territorial sea from any island,
548

Imperial Conference 1923, Report of Inter-Departmental Committee on the Limits of Territorial Waters
(27 September 1923).

549

League of Nations Conference for the Codification of International Law, Bases of Discussion for the
Conference Drawn up by the Preparatory Committee, Vol. II: Territorial Waters, League of Nations
Doc. C.74.M.39.1929.V, p. 53 (15 May 1929).

550

League of Nations Conference for the Codification of International Law, Bases of Discussion for the
Conference Drawn up by the Preparatory Committee, Vol. II: Territorial Waters, League of Nations
Doc. C.74.M.39.1929.V, pp. 52-54 (15 May 1929).

551

International Law Commission, Articles concerning the Law of the Sea, art. 10, Yearbook of the
International Law Commission, Vol. II, p. 256 at p. 257 (1956).

552

International Law Commission, “Summary Record of the 260th meeting,” UN Doc. A/CN.4/SR.260,
Yearbook of the International Law Commission, Vol. I, at p. 90 (1954).

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defined as “a naturally formed area of land, surrounded by water, which is above water at high
tide.”553 In describing islands as “naturally formed”, the drafters clearly excluded the possibility
of States obtaining a territorial sea through the creation of artificial islands.
526. Before the 1970s, the issue of very small high-tide features generating expansive continental
shelves had not yet become urgent, given both the uncertainties surrounding the definition of the
limit of the continental shelf in the 1958 Continental Shelf Convention and the limited technical
capacity of States to exploit the deep seabed. From 1971, however, the definition of islands and
their maritime entitlements took on a new relevance in the context of the emerging regime of
expanded maritime entitlements. At the Seabed Committee meeting in 1971, prior to the Third
UN Conference, Ambassador Arvid Pardo of Malta expressed the following concerns about the
prospect of granting such entitlements to all islands without distinction:
If a 200 mile limit of jurisdiction could be founded on the possession of uninhabited,
remote or very small islands, the effectiveness of international administration of ocean
space beyond a national jurisdiction would be gravely impaired.554

527. During the meetings of the Seabed Committee, some States preferred to retain the rule that all
islands generate the same entitlements and warned of the “dangers inherent in drawing any
distinction between islands according to their size, location, population.” 555 However, many
States submitted texts distinguishing between the entitlements of different types of islands on
the basis of precisely these criteria.556

553

1958 Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, art. 10.

554

Committee on the Peaceful Uses of the Seabed and the Ocean Floor beyond the Limits of National
Jurisdiction, “Summary Record of the Fifty-Seventh Meeting,” UN Doc. A/AC.138/SR.57, p. 163 at
p. 167 (23 March 1971) (Statement of the Representative of Malta).

555

Report of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of the Seabed and the Ocean Floor beyond the Limits of
National Jurisdiction, UN Doc. A/8721, at p. 46, para. 186 (1972), Official Records of the UN General
Assembly, 27th Session, Supplement No. 21.

556

For example, Malta proposed different entitlements for land greater or less than one square kilometre.
Report of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of the Seabed and the Ocean Floor beyond the Limits of
National Jurisdiction, Vol. III, UN General Assembly, Official Records, 28th Session, Supplement No. 21,
UN Doc. A/9021, pp. 87 at p. 89 (1973). The Organization of African Unity put forward the text of the
Addis Ababa Declaration that would determine maritime spaces of islands by taking into account “all
relevant factors and special circumstances,” including size, population or absence thereof, contiguity to
principal territory, geological configuration, or the special interests of island States and archipelagic
States. Report of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of the Seabed and the Ocean Floor beyond the
Limits of National Jurisdiction, Vol. III, UN Doc. A/9021, pp. 35 at p. 37 (1973), Official Records of the
UN General Assembly, 28th Session, Supplement No. 21.

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528. The most extensive negotiations over the provision that became Article 121(3) took place
during the Second Session of the Third UN Conference in Caracas in 1974. 557

The

Representative of Romania expressed the following concerns:
the question of islands had to be considered within the new parameters of the enlarged
12-mile territorial sea, the 200-mile economic zone, and the concept of the common
heritage of mankind. The régime established for islands would be a contributing factor in
determining the extent of the international area in which coastal and land-locked States had
an equal interest. The tremendous diversity among islands with regard to size,
geographical situation, and economic and social importance gave some idea of the
complexity of the problem for which generalized solutions along the lines of those adopted
at the 1958 Geneva Conference would no longer be adequate.558

529. It was during this session of the Conference that Ambassador Koh of Singapore linked the
regime of islands and the need for restrictions on the features that would generate an exclusive
economic zone with development and the common heritage of mankind (see paragraph 518
above).
530. Some States opposed the introduction of special distinctions because they believed it was a
“practical impossibility” to arrive at a workable formula.559 The representative of the United
Kingdom pointed out various practical problems with distinguishing entitlements based on the
size, population, or remoteness or geographical proximity of a feature in relation to the coastal
or other States. 560

The representative of Mexico agreed it would be “difficult, if not

impossible,” to draft specific regulations to cover the “immense diversity of island situations”
and therefore suggested that the “basic norm must reflect . . . that the marine space of an island

557

For a general summary of the drafting historic of Article 121, see United Nations, Office for Ocean
Affairs and the Law of the Sea, The Law of the Sea: Régime of Islands: Legislative History of Part VIII
(Article 121) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (1988).

558

“Summary
Records
of
Meetings
of
the
Second
Committee,
39 th
Meeting,”
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.39 p. 279 at p. 281-282, paras. 29-36 (14 August 1974) (Statement of the
Representative of Romania), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the
Sea, Volume II (Summary Records of Meetings of the First, Second and Third Committees, Second
Session); See also Romania, “Draft Articles on Definition of and Regime Applicable to Islets and Islands
Similar to Islets,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/L.53 (21 August 1974).

559

“Summary
Records
of
Meetings
of
the
Second
Committee,
40 th
Meeting,”
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.40, p. 286 at p. 286-287, paras. 6-9 (14 August 1974) (Statement of the
Representative of France), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the
Sea, Volume II (Summary Records of Meetings of the First, Second and Third Committees, Second
Session).

560

“Summary
Records
of
Meetings
of
the
Second
Committee,
40 th
Meeting,”
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.40, p. 286 at p. 288, para. 33 (14 August 1974) (Statement of the
Representative of the United Kingdom), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the
Law of the Sea, Volume II (Summary Records of Meetings of the First, Second and Third Committees,
Second Session).

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must be measured in accordance with the same provisions as were applicable to other land
territory. However, exceptions based on principles of equity could be accepted.”561
531. Eventually, at the Third Session of the Third UN Conference in Geneva in 1975, the matter was
referred to an informal consultative group which, without leaving records, prepared the
“Informal Single Negotiating Text” that presented the exception for “rocks which cannot sustain
human habitation or economic life of their own,” within a provision identical to what became
Article 121(3) of the Convention.562
532. The Informal Single Negotiating Text reflected a “compromise”. 563 The compromise text
received support from some States,564 but efforts persisted by others, including Japan, Greece,
and the United Kingdom, to remove the rocks exception in paragraph (3).565 Some delegates
suggested retaining paragraph (3), but introduced further amendments, such as an explicit link

561

“Summary
Records
of
Meetings
of
the
Second
Committee,
40 th
Meeting,”
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.40, at p. 289, paras. 46-47 (14 August 1974) (Statement of the
Representative of Mexico), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the
Sea, Volume II (Summary Records of Meetings of the First, Second and Third Committees, Second
Session).

562

Informal Single Negotiating Text, Part II, UN Doc. A/CONF.62/WP.8/PartII at pp. 170-171 (7 May
1975), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, Volume IV
(Summary Records, Plenary, General Committee, First, Second and Third Committees, as well as
Documents of the Conference, Third Session).

563

“170th Plenary Meeting,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/SR.170, p. 100 at p. 102, para. 27 (16 April 1982)
(Statement of the Representative of the USSR), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference
on the Law of the Sea, Volume XVI (Summary Records, Plenary, First and Second Committees, as well as
Documents of the Conference, Eleventh Session).

564

See, e.g., “170th Plenary Meeting,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/SR.170, at p. 105, paras. 68-69 (16 April 1982)
(Statement of the Representative of Mozambique), Official Records of the Third United Nations
Conference on the Law of the Sea, Volume XVI (Summary Records, Plenary, First and Second
Committees, as well as Documents of the Conference, Eleventh Session); “171st Plenary Meeting,”
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/SR.171 p. 106 at p. 106, para. 8 (16 April 1982) (Statement of the Representative
of Denmark), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, Volume
XVI (Summary Records, Plenary, First and Second Committees, as well as Documents of the Conference,
Eleventh Session); “171st Plenary Meeting,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/SR.171, p. 106 at p. 108, para. 31
(16 April 1982) (Statement of the Representative of Trinidad and Tobago), Official Records of the Third
United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, Volume XVI (Summary Records, Plenary, First and
Second Committees, as well as Documents of the Conference, Eleventh Session); “171st Plenary Meeting,”
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/SR.171, p. 106 at p. 109, para. 38 (16 April 1982) (Statement of the Representative
of Tunisia), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, Volume XVI
(Summary Records, Plenary, First and Second Committees, as well as Documents of the Conference,
Eleventh Session).

565

“168th Plenary Meeting,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/SR.168, p. 87 at p. 91, para. 57 (15 April 1982)
(Statement of the Representative of the United Kingdom), Official Records of the Third United Nations
Conference on the Law of the Sea, Volume XVI (Summary Records, Plenary, First and Second
Committees, as well as Documents of the Conference, Eleventh Session); United Kingdom of Great
Britain and Northern Ireland, “Amendments,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/L.126 (13 April 1982).

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to the delimitation provisions in Articles 15, 74, and 83566 or a specification about “uninhabited
islets.”567 Neither was accepted.
533. Even in the final sessions of the Third UN Conference, in 1982, proposals to delete
paragraph (3) were introduced and rejected. In defence of the compromise reached, the Danish
representative emphasised that without paragraph (3), “tiny and barren islands, looked upon in
the past as mere obstacles to navigation, would miraculously become the golden keys to vast
maritime zones. That would indeed be an unwarranted and unacceptable consequence of the
new law of the sea.”568 The representative of Colombia remarked that Article 121 reflected “a
unique and delicate balance and would help to preserve the common heritage in the oceans” 569
and, in the final session, recalled the link between the package compromise and the objective of
securing to the people of the coastal State the benefits of the exclusive economic zone (see
paragraph 518 above). 570

(b)

Conclusions Drawn from the Travaux Préparatoires

534. The Tribunal accepts that the travaux préparatoires of Article 121 are an imperfect guide in
interpreting the meaning of paragraph (3) of that Article. In particular, the key compromise that
produced the ultimate formulation for that text was reached through informal consultations in
1975, for which no records were kept. Nevertheless, the Tribunal considers that a number of
general conclusions can be drawn from the negotiating history.

566

“140th Plenary Meeting,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/SR.140, p. 75 at p. 79, para. 55 (27 August 1980)
(Statement of the Representative of Turkey), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on
the Law of the Sea, Volume XIV (Summary Records, Plenary, General Committee, First and Third
Committees, as well as Documents of the Conference, Resumed Ninth Session).

567

“169th Plenary Meeting,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/SR.169, p. 93 at p. 97, paras. 52-53 (15 April 1982)
(Statement of the Representative of the Romania), Official Records of the Third United Nations
Conference on the Law of the Sea, Volume XVI (Summary Records, Plenary, First and Second
Committees, as well as Documents of the Conference, Eleventh Session); Romania, “Amendment to
Article 121,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/L.118 (13 April 1982).

568

“171st Plenary Meeting,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/SR.171, p. 106 at p. 106, para. 8 (16 April 1982)
(Statement of the Representative of Denmark), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference
on the Law of the Sea, Volume XVI (Summary Records, Plenary, First and Second Committees, as well as
Documents of the Conference, Eleventh Session).

569

“172nd Plenary Meeting,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/SR.172, p. 114 at p. 116, para. 29 (16 April 1982)
(Statement of the Representative of Colombia), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference
on the Law of the Sea, Volume XVI (Summary Records, Plenary, First and Second Committees, as well as
Documents of the Conference, Eleventh Session).

570

“189th Plenary meeting,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/SR.189, p. 66 at p. 83, para. 251 (8 December 1982)
(Statement of the Representative of Colombia), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference
on the Law of the Sea, Volume XVI (Summary Records, Plenary, First and Second Committees, as well as
Documents of the Conference, Eleventh Session).

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535. First, Article 121(3) is a provision of limitation. It imposes two conditions that can disqualify
high-tide features from generating vast maritime spaces. These conditions were introduced with
the object and purpose of preventing encroachment on the international seabed reserved for the
common heritage of mankind and of avoiding the inequitable distribution of maritime spaces
under national jurisdiction. This understanding of the object and purpose of Article 121(3) is
consistent with the views of both the Philippines and China as summarised above at
paragraphs 409 to 422 and 451 to 458.
536. Second, the definitions in Article 121(3) were not discussed in isolation, but were frequently
discussed in the context of other aspects of the Convention. These included: (a) the introduction
of an exclusive economic zone,571 (b) the purpose of the exclusive economic zone in securing
the benefit of maritime resources for the population of the coastal State,572 (c) the question of
islands under foreign domination or colonial dependence, 573 (d) the introduction of the
international seabed area (the common heritage of mankind),574 (e) the protection of the interests

571

The “essential link” between Article 121(3) of the Convention and the introduction of the exclusive
economic zone was recognized by the International Court of Justice in Nicaragua v. Colombia:
Territorial and Maritime Dispute (Nicaragua v. Colombia), Judgment, ICJ Reports 2012, p. 624 at
p. 674, para. 139.

572

“Summary
Records
of
Meetings
of
the
Second
Committee,
39 th
Meeting,”
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.39, p. 279 at p. 285, para. 72 (14 August 1974) (Statement of the
Representative of Singapore), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the
Sea, Volume II (Summary Records of Meetings of the First, Second and Third Committees, Second
Session); “189th Plenary Meeting,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/SR.189, p. 66 at p. 83, para. 251 (8 December
1982) (Statement of the Representative of Colombia), Official Records of the Third United Nations
Conference on the Law of the Sea, Volume XVI (Summary Records, Plenary, First and Second
Committees, as well as Documents of the Conference, Eleventh Session).

573

See Fiji, New Zealand, Tonga and Western Samoa, “Draft Articles on Islands and on Territories under
Foreign Domination or Control,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/L.30 (30 July 1974); Argentina, Bolivia,
Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras,
Libyan Arab Republic, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, “Draft Article
on Islands and Other Territories under Colonial Domination or Foreign Occupation,”
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/L.58 (13 August 1974); “Summary records of meetings of the Second
Committee, 38th Meeting,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.38, p. 273 at p. 278, para. 69 (13 August 1974)
(Statement of the Representative of New Zeeland), Official Records of the Third United Nations
Conference on the Law of the Sea, Volume II (Summary Records of Meetings of the First, Second and
Third Committees, Second Session); “Summary Records of Meetings of the Second Committee,
24th Meeting,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.24, p. 187 at p. 190, para. 46 (1 August 1974) (Statement of
the Representative of Tonga), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the
Sea, Volume II (Summary Records of Meetings of the First, Second and Third Committees, Second
Session); “Summary Records of Meetings of the Second Committee, 39 th Meeting,”
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.39, p. 279 at pp. 284-285, paras. 64-71 (14 August 1974) (Statement of the
Representative of Argentina), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the
Sea, Volume II (Summary Records of Meetings of the First, Second and Third Committees, Second
Session).

574

See “Summary Records of Meetings of the Second Committee, 39 th Meeting,”
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.39, p. 279 at p. 284, paras. 62-63 (14 August 1974) (Statement of the
Representative of Turkey), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the

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of archipelagic States, 575 (f) the role of islands in maritime delimitation, 576 and (g) concerns
about the potential for artificial installations to generate maritime zones.577
537. Third, the drafters accepted that there are diverse high-tide features: vast and tiny; barren and
lush; rocky and sandy; isolated and proximate; densely and sparsely populated, or not populated
at all. Many States considered that criteria such as surface area, population size, and proximity
to other land might be useful in deciding whether a high-tide feature should be a fully entitled
island. But the negotiating history clearly demonstrates the difficulty in setting, in the abstract,
bright-line rules for all cases. Proposals to introduce specific criteria were considered, but
consistently rejected.578 Against such attempts at precision, the drafters clearly favoured the
language of the compromise reflected in Article 121(3).

Sea, Volume II (Summary Records of Meetings of the First, Second and Third Committees, Second
Session).
575

See “Summary Records of Meetings of the Second Committee, 39 th Meeting,”
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.39, p. 279 at pp. 285-286, paras. 79-80 (14 August 1974) (Statement of the
Representative of Greece), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the
Sea, Volume II (Summary Records of Meetings of the First, Second and Third Committees, Second
Session); “Summary Records of Meetings of the Second Committee,” 37 th Meeting,
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.37, p. 266 at p. 272, paras. 73-75 (12 August 1974) (Statement of the
Representative of Tunisia), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the
Sea, Volume II (Summary Records of Meetings of the First, Second and Third Committees, Second
Session).

576

See “Summary Records of Meetings of the Second Committee, 39 th Meeting,”
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.39, p. 279 at p. 285, para. 76 (14 August 1974) (Statement of the
Representative of Greece), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the
Sea, Volume II (Summary Records of Meetings of the First, Second and Third Committees, Second
Session); Summary records of meetings of the Second Committee, 40 th meeting,
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.40, p. 286 at p. 288, paras. 26-27 (14 August 1974) (Statement of the
Representative of Tunisia), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the
Sea, Volume II (Summary Records of Meetings of the First, Second and Third Committees, Second
Session); “140th Plenary Meeting,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/SR.140, p. 75 at p. 79, para. 55 (27 August
1980) (Statement of the Representative of Turkey), Official Records of the Third United Nations
Conference on the Law of the Sea, Volume XIV (Summary Records, Plenary, General Committee, First
and Third Committees, as well as Documents of the Conference, Resumed Ninth Session); “Summary
Records of Meetings of the Second Committee, 40 th Meeting,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.40, at pp.
286-287, para. 9 (14 August 1974) (Statement of the Representative of France), Official Records of the
Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, Volume II (Summary Records of Meetings of the
First, Second and Third Committees, Second Session); see also Algeria, Dahomey, Guinea, Ivory Coast,
Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tunisia, Upper Volta and Zambia,
“Draft Articles on the Regime of Islands, Draft Art. 3,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/L.62/Rev.1 (27 August
1974).

577

See “Summary Records of Meetings of the Second Committee, 39th
Meeting,”
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.39, p. 279 at p. 284, para. 63 (14 August 1974) (Statement of the
Representative of Turkey), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the
Sea, Volume II (Summary Records of Meetings of the First, Second and Third Committees, Second
Session).

578

Attempts to include “geological configuration” or “geomorphological structure” as relevant factors in
Article 121 all failed, confirming the Tribunal’s interpretation of that portion of the text. See, e.g.,
Romania, “Draft Articles on Definition of and Régime Applicable to Islets and Islands Similar to Islets,”

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538. In particular, repeated attempts during the Conference to define or categorise islands or rocks by
reference to size were all rejected. These included proposals to include “size” on a list of
“relevant factors”;579 proposals to categorise islands and islets depending on whether they were
“vast” or “smaller”;580 and proposals that made distinctions based on whether the surface area of
a feature measured more or less than a particular figure, such as one square kilometre 581 or ten
square kilometres.582 In this respect, the representative of United Kingdom recalled that “there
were large islands which were largely or completely uninhabited and small ones with dense
populations which depend heavily upon the sea.”583 Representatives of small island States, such
as Micronesia, Fiji, Tonga, and Western Samoa, also argued that it was inequitable to deprive
features of their maritime entitlements on the basis of size.584 The Tribunal considers that the

UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/L.53 (12 August 1974); Algeria, Dahomey, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia,
Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tunisia, Upper Volta and Zambia, “Draft
Articles on the Regime of Islands,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/L.62/Rev. 1 (27 August 1974);
“103rd Plenary Meeting,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/SR.103 p. 61 at p. 64, para. 39 (18 May 1978) (Statement
of the Representative of Madagascar), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the
Law of the Sea, Volume IX (Summary Records, Plenary, General Committee, First, Second and Third
Committees, as well as Documents of the Conference, Seventh and Resumed Seventh Session).
579

Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mauritius, Senegal, Sierra Leone,
Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia and United Republic of Tanzania, “Draft Articles on Exclusive Economic Zone,
Report of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of the Seabed and the Ocean Floor beyond the Limits of
National Jurisdiction,” Vol. III, UN Doc. A/9021, pp. 87-89 at p. 89 (1973), Official Records of the UN
General Assembly, 28th Session, Supplement No. 21; Romania, “Draft Articles on Delimitation of Marine
and Ocean Space between Adjacent and Opposite Neighbouring States and Various Aspects Involved,”
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/L.18 (23 July 1974).

580

Algeria, Dahomey, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Sierra Leone,
Sudan, Tunisia, Upper Volta and Zambia, “Draft Articles on the Regime of Islands,”
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/L.62/Rev. 1 (27 August 1974).

581

Report of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of the Seabed and the Ocean Floor beyond the Limits of
National Jurisdiction, Vol. III, UN Doc. A/9021, pp. 35-70 at p. 37 (1973), Official Records of the UN
General Assembly, 28th Session, Supplement No. 21; Romania, “Draft Articles on Definition of and
Regime Applicable to Islets and Islands Similar to Islets,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/L.53 (12 August
1974).

582

Report of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of the Seabed and the Ocean Floor beyond the Limits of
National Jurisdiction, Vol. III, UN Doc. A/9021, pp. 35-70 at p. 41 (1973), Official Records of the UN
General Assembly, 28th Session, Supplement No. 21.

583

“Summary
Records
of
Meetings
of
the
Second
Committee,
40 th
Meeting,”
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.40, p. 286 at p. 288, para. 37 (14 August 1974) (Statement of the
Representative of the United Kingdom), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the
Law of the Sea, Volume II (Summary Records of Meetings of the First, Second and Third Committees,
Second Session).

584

See “Statement by the Chairman of the Joint Committee of the Congress of Micronesia submitted on
behalf of the Congress by the United States of America,” UN Doc. A/CONF.62/L.6 (27 August 1974);
“Summary
Records
of
Meetings
of
the
Second
Committee,
24 th
Meeting,”
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.24, p. 187 at p. 190, paras. 40-47 (1 August 1974) (Statement of the
Representative of Tonga), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the
Sea, Volume II (Summary Records of Meetings of the First, Second and Third Committees, Second
Session); “Summary Records of Meetings of the Second Committee, 39th Meeting,”
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.39, p. 279 at p. 281, paras. 22-28 (14 August 1974) (Statement of the

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travaux make clear that—although size may correlate to the availability of water, food, living
space, and resources for an economic life—size cannot be dispositive of a feature’s status as a
fully entitled island or rock and is not, on its own, a relevant factor.

As noted by the

International Court of Justice in Territorial and Maritime Dispute (Nicaragua v. Colombia),
“international law does not prescribe any minimum size which a feature must possess in order to
be considered an island.”585
iv.

Conclusions on the Interpretation of Article 121(3)

539. Drawing on the foregoing consideration of the text, context, object and purpose, and drafting
history of Article 121(3), the Tribunal reaches the following conclusions with respect to the
interpretation of that provision.
540. First, for the reasons set out above, the use of the word “rock” does not limit the provision to
features composed of solid rock. The geological and geomorphological characteristics of a
high-tide feature are not relevant to its classification pursuant to Article 121(3).
541. Second, the status of a feature is to be determined on the basis of its natural capacity, without
external additions or modifications intended to increase its capacity to sustain human habitation
or an economic life of its own.
542. Third, with respect to “human habitation”, the critical factor is the non-transient character of the
inhabitation, such that the inhabitants can fairly be said to constitute the natural population of
the feature, for whose benefit the resources of the exclusive economic zone were seen to merit
protection. The term “human habitation” should be understood to involve the inhabitation of
the feature by a stable community of people for whom the feature constitutes a home and on
which they can remain. Such a community need not necessarily be large, and in remote atolls a
few individuals or family groups could well suffice. Periodic or habitual residence on a feature
by a nomadic people could also constitute habitation, and the records of the Third UN
Representative of Western Samoa), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law
of the Sea, Volume II (Summary Records of Meetings of the First, Second and Third Committees, Second
Session); “Summary Records of Meetings of the Second Committee, 39 th Meeting,”
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.39, p. 279 at p. 283, paras. 48-51 (14 August 1974) (Statement of the
Representative of Fiji), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea,
Volume II (Summary Records of Meetings of the First, Second and Third Committees, Second Session);
see also “Summary Records of Meetings of the Second Committee, 40th Meeting,”
UN Doc. A/CONF.62/C.2/SR.40, p. 286 at p. 287, paras. 13-15 (14 August 1974) (Statement of the
Representative of Jamaica), Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the
Sea, Volume II (Summary Records of Meetings of the First, Second and Third Committees, Second
Session).
585

Territorial and Maritime Dispute (Nicaragua v. Colombia), Judgment, ICJ Reports 2012, p. 624 at
p. 645, para. 37.

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Conference record a great deal of sensitivity to the livelihoods of the populations of small island
nations.

An indigenous population would obviously suffice, but also non-indigenous

inhabitation could meet this criterion if the intent of the population was truly to reside in and
make their lives on the islands in question.
543. Fourth, the term “economic life of their own” is linked to the requirement of human habitation,
and the two will in most instances go hand in hand. Article 121(3) does not refer to a feature
having economic value, but to sustaining “economic life”. The Tribunal considers that the
“economic life” in question will ordinarily be the life and livelihoods of the human population
inhabiting and making its home on a maritime feature or group of features. Additionally,
Article 121(3) makes clear that the economic life in question must pertain to the feature as
“of its own”. Economic life, therefore, must be oriented around the feature itself and not
focused solely on the waters or seabed of the surrounding territorial sea. Economic activity that
is entirely dependent on external resources or devoted to using a feature as an object for
extractive activities without the involvement of a local population would also fall inherently
short with respect to this necessary link to the feature itself. Extractive economic activity to
harvest the natural resources of a feature for the benefit of a population elsewhere certainly
constitutes the exploitation of resources for economic gain, but it cannot reasonably be
considered to constitute the economic life of an island as its own.
544. Fifth, the text of Article 121(3) is disjunctive, such that the ability to sustain either human
habitation or an economic life of its own would suffice to entitle a high-tide feature to an
exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. However, as a practical matter, the Tribunal
considers that a maritime feature will ordinarily only possess an economic life of its own if it is
also inhabited by a stable human community. One exception to that view should be noted for
the case of populations sustaining themselves through a network of related maritime features.
The Tribunal does not believe that maritime features can or should be considered in an atomised
fashion. A population that is able to inhabit an area only by making use of multiple maritime
features does not fail to inhabit the feature on the grounds that its habitation is not sustained by
a single feature individually. Likewise, a population whose livelihood and economic life
extends across a constellation of maritime features is not disabled from recognising that such
features possess an economic life of their own merely because not all of the features are directly
inhabited.
545. Sixth, Article 121(3) is concerned with the capacity of a maritime feature to sustain human
habitation or an economic life of its own, not with whether the feature is presently, or has been,
inhabited or home to economic life. The capacity of a feature is necessarily an objective

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criterion. It has no relation to the question of sovereignty over the feature. For this reason, the
determination of the objective capacity of a feature is not dependent on any prior decision on
sovereignty, and the Tribunal is not prevented from assessing the status of features by the fact
that it has not and will not decide the matter of sovereignty over them.
546. Seventh, the capacity of a feature to sustain human habitation or an economic life of its own
must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. The drafters of the Convention considered proposals
with any number of specific tests and rejected them in favour of the general formula set out in
Article 121(3). The Tribunal considers that the principal factors that contribute to the natural
capacity of a feature can be identified. These would include the presence of water, food, and
shelter in sufficient quantities to enable a group of persons to live on the feature for an
indeterminate period of time. Such factors would also include considerations that would bear
on the conditions for inhabiting and developing an economic life on a feature, including the
prevailing climate, the proximity of the feature to other inhabited areas and populations, and the
potential for livelihoods on and around the feature. The relative contribution and importance of
these factors to the capacity to sustain human habitation and economic life, however, will vary
from one feature to another. While minute, barren features may be obviously uninhabitable
(and large, heavily populated features obviously capable of sustaining habitation), the Tribunal
does not consider that an abstract test of the objective requirements to sustain human habitation
or economic life can or should be formulated. This is particularly the case in light of the
Tribunal’s conclusion that human habitation entails more than the mere survival of humans on a
feature and that economic life entails more than the presence of resources. The absence of an
abstract test, however, has particular consequences (that will be discussed below) for the
Tribunal’s approach to evidence of conditions on, and the capacity of, the features in question.
547. Eighth, the Tribunal considers that the capacity of a feature should be assessed with due regard
to the potential for a group of small island features to collectively sustain human habitation and
economic life. On the one hand, the requirement in Article 121(3) that the feature itself sustain
human habitation or economic life clearly excludes a dependence on external supply. A feature
that is only capable of sustaining habitation through the continued delivery of supplies from
outside does not meet the requirements of Article 121(3). Nor does economic activity that
remains entirely dependent on external resources or that is devoted to using a feature as an
object for extractive activities, without the involvement of a local population, constitute a
feature’s “own” economic life. At the same time, the Tribunal is conscious that remote island
populations often make use of a number of islands, sometimes spread over significant distances,
for sustenance and livelihoods. An interpretation of Article 121(3) that sought to evaluate each
feature individually would be in keeping neither with the realities of life on remote islands nor
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with the sensitivity to the lifestyles of small island peoples that was apparent at the Third UN
Conference. Accordingly, provided that such islands collectively form part of a network that
sustains human habitation in keeping with the traditional lifestyle of the peoples in question, the
Tribunal would not equate the role of multiple islands in this manner with external supply. Nor
would the local use of nearby resources as part of the livelihood of the community equate to the
arrival of distant economic interests aimed at extracting natural resources.
548. Ninth, in light of the Tribunal’s conclusions on the interpretation of Article 121(3), evidence of
the objective, physical conditions on a particular feature can only take the Tribunal so far in its
task. In the Tribunal’s view, evidence of physical conditions will ordinarily suffice only to
classify features that clearly fall within one category or the other. If a feature is entirely barren
of vegetation and lacks drinkable water and the foodstuffs necessary even for basic survival, it
will be apparent that it also lacks the capacity to sustain human habitation. The opposite
conclusion could likewise be reached where the physical characteristics of a large feature make
it definitively habitable. The Tribunal considers, however, that evidence of physical conditions
is insufficient for features that fall close to the line. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to
determine from the physical characteristics of a feature alone where the capacity merely to keep
people alive ends and the capacity to sustain settled habitation by a human community begins.
This will particularly be the case as the relevant threshold may differ from one feature to
another.
549. In such circumstances, the Tribunal considers that the most reliable evidence of the capacity of a
feature will usually be the historical use to which it has been put. Humans have shown no
shortage of ingenuity in establishing communities in the far reaches of the world, often in
extremely difficult conditions.

If the historical record of a feature indicates that nothing

resembling a stable community has ever developed there, the most reasonable conclusion would
be that the natural conditions are simply too difficult for such a community to form and that the
feature is not capable of sustaining such habitation. In such circumstances, the Tribunal should
consider whether there is evidence that human habitation has been prevented or ended by forces
that are separate from the intrinsic capacity of the feature. War, pollution, and environmental
harm could all lead to the depopulation, for a prolonged period, of a feature that, in its natural
state, was capable of sustaining human habitation. In the absence of such intervening forces,
however, the Tribunal can reasonably conclude that a feature that has never historically
sustained a human community lacks the capacity to sustain human habitation.
550. Conversely, if a feature is presently inhabited or has historically been inhabited, the Tribunal
should consider whether there is evidence to indicate that habitation was only possible through

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outside support. Trade and links with the outside world do not disqualify a feature to the extent
that they go to improving the quality of life of its inhabitants. Where outside support is so
significant that it constitutes a necessary condition for the inhabitation of a feature, however, it
is no longer the feature itself that sustains human habitation. In this respect, the Tribunal notes
that a purely official or military population, serviced from the outside, does not constitute
evidence that a feature is capable of sustaining human habitation. Bearing in mind that the
purpose of Article 121(3) is to place limits on excessive and unfair claims by States, that
purpose would be undermined if a population were installed on a feature that, as such, would
not be capable of sustaining human habitation, precisely to stake a claim to the territory and the
maritime zones generated by it. The Tribunal notes that, as a result, evidence of human
habitation that predates the creation of exclusive economic zones may be more significant than
contemporary evidence, if the latter is clouded by an apparent attempt to assert a maritime
claim.
551. The same mode of analysis would apply equally to the past or current existence of economic
life. The Tribunal would first consider evidence of the use to which the feature has historically
been put before considering whether there is evidence to suggest that that historical record does
not fully reflect the economic life the feature could have sustained in its natural condition.
v.

The Relevance of State Practice in the Implementation of Article 121(3)

552. Finally, the Tribunal recalls that Article 31(3) of the Vienna Convention provides that “any
subsequent practice in the application of the treaty which establishes the agreement of the
parties regarding its interpretation” shall be taken into account together with the context. This
means that the Parties must have acquiesced in such practice so that one can speak of an
agreement reached concerning the interpretation of the provision in question. Scrutinising the
jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice on this issue, in particular the Advisory
Opinion Concerning the Legality of the Use by a State of Nuclear Weapons in Armed Conflict586
and the judgment in Kasikili/Sedudu Island,587 indicates that the threshold the Court establishes
for accepting an agreement on the interpretation by State practice is quite high. The threshold is
similarly high in the jurisprudence of the World Trade Organisation, which requires “a

586

Advisory Opinion Concerning the Legality of the Use by a State of Nuclear Weapons in Armed Conflict,
ICJ Reports 1996, p. 66 at p. 75, 81-82, paras. 19, 27.

587

Kasikili/Sedudu Island (Botswana/Namibia), Judgment, ICJ Reports 1999, p. 1045 at p. 1075-1087,
paras. 48-63. The judgment includes a detailed list of the Court’s prior jurisprudence on subsequent
practice in paragraph 50.

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‘concordant, common and consistent’ sequence of acts or pronouncements” to establish a
pattern implying agreement of the parties regarding a treaty’s interpretation.588
553. On the basis of the foregoing, the Tribunal comes to the conclusion that as far as the case before
it is concerned, there is no evidence for an agreement based upon State practice on the
interpretation of Article 121(3) which differs from the interpretation of the Tribunal as outlined
in the previous Sections.
(b)

Application of Article 121(3) to Scarborough Shoal, Johnson Reef, Cuarteron
Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Gaven Reef (North), and McKennan Reef
i.

Scarborough Shoal

554. In the Tribunal’s view, Scarborough Shoal is a “rock” for purposes of Article 121(3).
555. As discussed at paragraphs 333 to 334 above, the Tribunal finds that Scarborough Shoal
includes five to seven rocks that are exposed at high tide and is accordingly a high-tide feature.
That those protrusions are composed of coral is immaterial to their classification pursuant to
Article 121(3).
556. On any account, the protrusions above high tide at Scarborough Shoal are minuscule. This is
confirmed by photographs in the record.589 They obviously could not sustain human habitation
in their naturally formed state; they have no fresh water, vegetation, or living space and are
remote from any feature possessing such features. Scarborough Shoal has traditionally been
used as a fishing ground by fishermen from different States, but the Tribunal recalls that
economic activity in the surrounding waters must have some tangible link to the high-tide
feature itself before it could begin to constitute the economic life of the feature (see
paragraph 503 above). There is no evidence that the fishermen working on the reef make use
of, or have any connection to, the high-tide rocks at Scarborough Shoal. Nor is there any
evidence of economic activity beyond fishing.

There is, accordingly, no evidence that

Scarborough Shoal could independently sustain an economic life of its own.

588

Japan - Taxes on Alcoholic Beverages, Report of the Appellate Body, AB-1996-2, WT/DS8/AB/R,
WT/DS10/AB/R, WT/DS11/AB/R, pp. 12-13 (4 October 1996); Chile - Price Band System and
Safeguard Measures relating to Certain Agricultural Products, Report of the Appellate Body,
AB-2002-2, WT/DS207/AB/R, paras. 213-214 (23 September 2002); United States - Measures Affecting
the Cross-Border Supply of Gambling and Betting Services, Report of the Appellate Body, AB-2005-1,
WT/DS285/AB/R, paras. 191-195 (7 April 2005); European Communities - Customs Classification on
Frozen Boneless Chicken Cuts, Report of the Appellate Body, AB-2005-5, WT/DS269/AB/R,
WT/DS286/AB/R, paras. 255-276, 304 (12 September 2005).

589

Memorial, Figure 5.1; Supplemental Written Submission, Vol. II, p. 158.

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ii.

Johnson Reef

557. In the Tribunal’s view, Johnson Reef is also a “rock” for purposes of Article 121(3).
558. As discussed at paragraphs 344 to 351 above, the Tribunal finds that Johnson Reef, in its natural
condition, had at least one rock that reaches as high as 1.2 metres above Mean Sea Level and is
accordingly a high-tide feature. Like the rocks at Scarborough Shoal, the high-tide portion of
Johnson Reef lacks drinking water, vegetation, and living space. It is a minuscule, barren
feature obviously incapable, in its natural condition, of sustaining human habitation or an
economic life of its own.
559. While China has constructed an installation and maintains an official presence on Johnson Reef,
this is only possible through construction on the portion of the reef platform that submerges at
high tide.590 China’s presence is necessarily dependent on outside supplies, and there is no
evidence of any human activity on Johnson Reef prior to the beginning of China’s presence in
1988. As discussed above (see paragraphs 508 to 511), the status of a feature for the purpose of
Article 121(3) is to be assessed on the basis of its natural condition, prior to human
modification. China’s construction of an installation on Johnson Reef cannot elevate its status
from rock to fully entitled island.
iii.

Cuarteron Reef

560. In the Tribunal’s view, Cuarteron Reef is also a “rock” for purposes of Article 121(3).
561. As discussed at paragraphs 335 to 339 above, the Tribunal finds that Cuarteron Reef, in its
natural condition, was encumbered by rocks that remain exposed one to two metres above high
tide and is accordingly a high-tide feature. The high-tide portions of Cuarteron Reef are
minuscule and barren, and obviously incapable, in their natural condition, of sustaining human
habitation or an economic life of their own.
562. While China has constructed an installation and engaged in significant reclamation work at
Cuarteron Reef, this is only possible through dredging and the elevation of the portion of the
reef platform that submerges at high tide. 591 China’s presence is necessarily dependent on
590

Photographs of the evolution of the original Chinese installation on Johnson Reef are reproduced in
Armed Forces of the Philippines, Matrix of Events: Johnson (Mabini) Reef (2013) (Annex 90).
Photographs and satellite imagery of China’s more recent construction and reclamation activities on
Johnson Reef are reproduced in Compilation of Images of Johnson Reef (various sources) (compiled
13 November 2015) (Annex 790).

591

Photographs of the evolution of the original Chinese installation on Cuarteron Reef are reproduced in
Armed Forces of the Philippines, Matrix of Events: Cuarteron (Calderon) Reef (2013) (Annex 87).

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outside supplies, and there is no evidence of any human activity on Cuarteron Reef prior to the
beginning of China’s presence in 1988. As with the other high-tide features that have been the
subject of construction and reclamation work, the status of a feature for the purpose of
Article 121(3) is to be assessed on the basis of its natural condition, prior to human
modification. China’s construction on Cuarteron Reef, however extensive, cannot elevate its
status from rock to fully entitled island.
iv.

Fiery Cross Reef

563. In the Tribunal’s view, Fiery Cross Reef is also a “rock” for purposes of Article 121(3).
564. As discussed at paragraphs 340 to 343 above, the Tribunal finds that Fiery Cross Reef, in its
natural condition, had one prominent rock, which remains exposed approximately one metre
above high tide, and is accordingly a high-tide feature. According to the Chinese sailing
directions, the surface area of this rock exposed at high tide amounts to only two square metres.
The high-tide portion of Fiery Cross Reef is minuscule and barren, and obviously incapable, in
its natural condition, of sustaining human habitation or an economic life of its own.
565. While China has constructed an installation and engaged in significant land reclamation work at
Fiery Cross Reef, this is only possible through dredging and the elevation of the portion of the
reef platform that submerges at high tide. 592 China’s presence is necessarily dependent on
outside supplies, and there is no evidence of any human activity on Fiery Cross Reef prior to the
beginning of China’s presence in 1988. As with the other high-tide features that have been the
subject of construction and reclamation work, the status of a feature for the purpose of
Article 121(3) is to be assessed on the basis of its natural condition, prior to human
modification. China’s construction on Fiery Cross Reef, however extensive, cannot elevate its
status from rock to fully entitled island.
v.

Gaven Reef (North)

566. In the Tribunal’s view, Gaven Reef (North) is also a “rock” for purposes of Article 121(3).

Photographs and satellite imagery of China’s more recent construction and reclamation activities on
Cuarteron Reef are reproduced in Compilation of Images of Cuarteron Reef (various sources) (compiled
13 November 2015) (Annex 787).
592

Photographs of the evolution of the original Chinese installation on Fiery Cross Reef are reproduced in
Armed Forces of the Philippines, Matrix of Events: Fiery Cross (Kagitingan) Reef (2013) (Annex 88).
Photographs and satellite imagery of China’s more recent construction and reclamation activities on Fiery
Cross Reef are reproduced in Compilation of Images of Fiery Cross Reef (various sources) (compiled
13 November 2015) (Annex 788).

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567. As discussed at paragraphs 359 to 366 above, the Tribunal finds that Gaven Reef (North), in its
natural condition, had a small sand cay in its north-east corner that remains exposed at high tide
and is accordingly a high-tide feature. It is a minuscule, barren feature obviously incapable, in
its natural condition, of sustaining human habitation or an economic life of its own.
568. While China has constructed an installation and engaged in significant reclamation work at
Gaven Reef (North), this is only possible through dredging and the elevation of the portion of
the reef platform that submerges at high tide. 593 China’s presence is necessarily dependent on
outside supplies, and there is no evidence of any human activity on Gaven Reef (North) prior to
the beginning of China’s presence in 1988. As with the other high-tide features that have been
the subject of construction and reclamation work, the status of a feature for the purpose of
Article 121(3) is to be assessed on the basis of its natural condition, prior to human
modification. China’s construction on Gaven Reef (North), however extensive, cannot elevate
its status from rock to fully entitled island.
vi.

McKennan Reef

569. In the Tribunal’s view, McKennan Reef is also a “rock” for purposes of Article 121(3).
570. As discussed at paragraphs 352 to 354 above, the Tribunal finds that McKennan Reef includes a
feature that remains exposed at high tide and is accordingly a high-tide feature. There is no
indication that this feature is of any significant size, and the Tribunal concludes that the height
indicated on the recent Chinese chart most likely refers to a coral boulder pushed above high
water by storm activity. Such a feature would be obviously incapable, in its natural conditions,
of sustaining human habitation or an economic life of its own. There is no evidence of any
human activity on McKennan Reef, nor has any State installed a human presence there.
(c)

Application of Article 121 to the Spratly Islands as a Whole

571. Before turning to the status of the more significant high-tide features in the Spratly Islands, the
Tribunal takes note of China’s statement that “China has, based on the Nansha Islands as a
whole, territorial sea, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.” 594 The Tribunal also

593

Photographs of the evolution of the original Chinese installation on Gaven Reef (North) are reproduced in
Armed Forces of the Philippines, Matrix of Events: Gaven (Burgos) (2013) (Annex 89). Photographs and
satellite imagery of China’s more recent construction and reclamation activities on Gaven Reef (North)
are reproduced in Compilation of Images of Gaven Reef (various sources) (compiled 13 November 2015)
(Annex 789).

594

Letter from the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to the Netherlands to the individual
members of the Tribunal (3 June 2016), enclosing Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of

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recalls that in its public Position Paper of 7 December 2014, China objected that “in respect of
the Nansha Islands, the Philippines selects only a few features and requests the Arbitral Tribunal
to decide on their maritime entitlements. This is in essence an attempt at denying China’s
sovereignty over the Nansha Islands as a whole.”595
572. In the Tribunal’s view, these statements can be understood in two different ways. To the extent
that China considers that the criteria of human habitation and economic life must be assessed
while bearing in mind that a population may sustain itself through the use of a network of
closely related maritime features, the Tribunal agrees. As already noted (see paragraph 547
above), the Tribunal is conscious that small island populations will often make use of a group of
reefs or atolls to support their livelihood and, where this is the case, does not consider that
Article 121(3) can or should be applied in a strictly atomised fashion.

Accordingly, the

Tribunal has not limited its consideration to the features specifically identified by the
Philippines in its Submissions, but requested the Philippines to provide detailed information on
all of the significant high-tide features in the Spratly Islands. 596 The Tribunal has taken a
similarly broad approach in its own efforts to satisfy itself that the Philippines’ claims are well
founded in fact.
573. On the other hand, China’s statements could also be understood as an assertion that the Spratly
Islands should be enclosed within a system of archipelagic or straight baselines, surrounding the
high-tide features of the group, and accorded an entitlement to maritime zones as a single unit.
With this, the Tribunal cannot agree. The use of archipelagic baselines (a baseline surrounding
an archipelago as a whole) is strictly controlled by the Convention, where Article 47(1) limits
their use to “archipelagic states”. 597 Archipelagic States are defined in Article 46 as States
“constituted wholly by one or more archipelagos and may include other islands.” 598 The
Philippines is an archipelagic State (being constituted wholly by an archipelago), is entitled to
employ archipelagic baselines, and does so in promulgating the baselines for its territorial sea.
China, however, is constituted principally by territory on the mainland of Asia and cannot meet
the definition of an archipelagic State.

China, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s Remarks on Relevant Issue about Taiping Dao
(3 June 2016) available at <www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/t1369189.shtml>;
see also Note Verbale from the People’s Republic of China to the Secretary-General of the United
Nations, No. CML/8/2011 (14 April 2011) (Annex 201).
595

China’s Position Paper, para. 19.

596

Request for Further Written Argument, Request 22.

597

Convention, art. 47(1).

598

Convention, art. 46.

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574. In any event, however, even the Philippines could not declare archipelagic baselines
surrounding the Spratly Islands. Article 47 of the Convention limits the use of archipelagic
baselines to circumstances where “within such baselines are included the main islands and an
area in which the ratio of the area of the water to the area of the land, including atolls, is
between 1 to 1 and 9 to 1.”599 The ratio of water to land in the Spratly Islands would greatly
exceed 9:1 under any conceivable system of baselines.
575. The Convention also provides, in its Article 7, for States to make use of straight baselines under
certain circumstances, and the Tribunal is aware of the practice of some States in employing
straight baselines with respect to offshore archipelagos to approximate the effect of archipelagic
baselines. In the Tribunal’s view, any application of straight baselines to the Spratly Islands in
this fashion would be contrary to the Convention. Article 7 provides for the application of
straight baselines only “[i]n localities where the coastline is deeply indented and cut into, or if
there is a fringe of islands along the coast in its immediate vicinity.” These conditions do not
include the situation of an offshore archipelago. Although the Convention does not expressly
preclude the use of straight baselines in other circumstances, the Tribunal considers that the
grant of permission in Article 7 concerning straight baselines generally, together with the
conditional permission in Articles 46 and 47 for certain States to draw archipelagic baselines,
excludes the possibility of employing straight baselines in other circumstances, in particular
with respect to offshore archipelagos not meeting the criteria for archipelagic baselines. Any
other interpretation would effectively render the conditions in Articles 7 and 47 meaningless.
576. Notwithstanding the practice of some States to the contrary, the Tribunal sees no evidence that
any deviations from this rule have amounted to the formation of a new rule of customary
international law that would permit a departure from the express provisions of the Convention.
(d)

Application of Article 121 to Other High-Tide Features in the Spratly Islands
i.

Factual Findings concerning High-Tide Features in the Spratly Islands

577. The Tribunal has reviewed a substantial volume of evidence concerning the conditions on the
more significant of the high-tide features in the Spratly Islands. This has included evidence
presented by the Philippines, as well as evidence in other publicly available sources and
materials obtained by the Tribunal from the archives of the United Kingdom Hydrographic
Office and France’s Bibliothèque Nationale de France and Archives Nationales d’Outre-Mer.

599

Convention, art. 47(1).

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578. There is no question that all of the significant high-tide features in the Spratly Islands are
presently controlled by one or another of the littoral States, which have constructed installations
and installed personnel. This presence, however, is predominantly military or governmental in
nature and involves significant outside supply. Moreover, many of the high-tide features have
been significantly modified from their natural condition. Additionally, accounts of current
conditions and human habitation on the features may reflect deliberate attempts to colour the
description in such a way as to enhance or reduce the likelihood of the feature being considered
to generate an exclusive economic zone, depending on the interests of the State in question.
Accordingly, the Tribunal considers historical evidence of conditions on the features—prior to
the advent of the exclusive economic zone as a concept or the beginning of significant human
modification—to represent a more reliable guide to the capacity of the features to sustain human
habitation or economic life.
579. The Tribunal will review different aspects of conditions on the features in turn.
(a)

The Presence of Potable Fresh Water

580. There are consistent reports, throughout the record, of small wells located on a number of
features in the Spratly Islands.

The 1868 edition of the China Sea Directory, reflecting

observations collected in the course of HMS Rifleman’s survey work in the area, notes the
presence of small wells on Itu Aba, Thitu, and North-East Cay, observing with respect to
Itu Aba that “the water found in the well on that island was better than elsewhere.” 600
HMS Rambler reported a similar small well on Namyit in 1888;601 HMS Iroquois described two
wells on South-West Cay in 1926;602 and HMS Herald reported a well on Spratly Island in
1936.603 Finally, the 1944 British Sailing Directions for the Dangerous Ground describe two
wells on Nanshan Island.604

600

Admiralty Hydrographic Office, China Sea Directory, Vol. II, p. 71 (1st ed., 1868); see also Admiralty
Hydrographic Office, China Sea Directory, Vol. II, pp. 72, 74 (1st ed., 1868); Division Botanique à
l’Institut des Recherches Agronomiques de l’Indochine, “Visite Botanique au Récif Tizard,” Bulletin
Économique de l’Indochine (September-October 1936).

601

Report of the Results of an Examination by the Officers of H.M.S. Rambler of the Slopes and Zoological
Condition of Tizard and Macclesfield Banks, UKHO Ref. HD106 at p. 15 (1888).

602

HMS Iroquois, Sailing Directions to accompany Chart of North Danger (North-East Cay and South-West
Cay) at p. 2 (1926).

603

HMS Herald, Corrections to Sailing Directions for Spratly Island, Amboyna Cay, and Fiery Cross Reef,
UKHO Ref. H3853/1936 at p. 1 (1936).

604

Sailing Direction for the Dangerous Ground, UKHO Ref. HD384 at p. 7 (1944 ed.).

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581. Where water quality is noted, the results appear to be varied. In addition to the previously noted
observation that the water on Itu Aba was “better than elsewhere”,605 the water on Thitu was
described as “brackish but drinkable” in 1937,606 the water on South-West Cay was noted to be
“slightly tainted” such that it “should be used with caution” in 1926,607 and the water on Spratly
Island was deemed “slightly brackish”. 608 The wells on Nanshan Island were described as
“brackish”.609
582. At the same time, a Japanese survey report of Itu Aba from 1939, apparently undertaken for
commercial purposes, describes significant quantities of fresh water in the following terms:
At that time, there were four wells, but only two of them were used. One of the two wells
is one meter in diameter, and about five meters deep. There is a large quantity of the
outwelling water, and according to the result of a survey, the water is suitable for drinking,
and the people staying there also used the water for drinking.
Even if they had collected about 10 tons of water per day from the well, the situation of the
well has not changed at all. Since they never collected more water than about 10 tons per
day, it is impossible to correctly explain the quantity of the water which the well may
supply. However, it is recognized that the well is able to supply considerable quantity of
water.
Besides the well mentioned above, the other well of similar size was used for various
purposes, and all chores that require water were done using this well. The other two wells
were not used at that time and were unattended, although it is said that the water outwelled
in the manner explained above in these wells. 610

583. Another Japanese account of a visit to Itu Aba in 1919 similarly indicates that “[t]he quality of
the water was good, and the quantity was abundant.”611 More recent accounts of water quality
are mixed. One study by Taiwanese botanists in 1994 indicates that “[t]he underground water is
salty and unusable for drinking.”612 Another study from the same year indicates that “[o]n the
whole, the two freshwater sites actually had better water quality than in usual rivers or lakes”

605

Admiralty Hydrographic Office, China Sea Directory, Vol. II, p. 71 (1st ed., 1868); see also Admiralty
Hydrographic Office, China Sea Directory, Vol. II, pp. 72, 74 (1st ed., 1868).

606

HMS Herald, Report of 1937 Visit to Thitu and Itu Aba, UKHO Ref. H2499/1937 at p. 1 (1937).

607

HMS Iroquois, Sailing Directions to accompany Chart of North Danger (North-East Cay and South-West
Cay) at p. 2 (1926).

608

HMS Herald, Corrections to Sailing Directions for Spratly Island, Amboyna Cay, and Fiery Cross Reef,
UKHO Ref. H3853/1936 at p. 1 (1936).

609

Sailing Direction for the Dangerous Ground, UKHO Ref. HD384 at p. 7 (1944 ed.).

610

H. Hiratsuka, “The Extended Base for the Expansion of the Fishery Business to Southern Area: New
Southern Archipelago–On-Site Survey Report,” Taiwan Times (May 1939).

611

U. Kokura, The Islands of Storm, pp. 188, 194 (1940).

612

T.C. Huang, et. al., “The Flora of Taipingtao (Itu Aba Island),” Taiwania, Vol. 39, No. 1-2 (1994)
(Annex 254).

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and that “the freshwater resources of the island were still in good condition.”613 Media coverage
of recent visits to Itu Aba by officials and guests of the Taiwan Authority of China also stress
that the well water there is drinkable.
584. In the Tribunal’s view, this record is consistent with the presence, historically, of small
freshwater lenses under most of the significant high-tide features in the Spratlys. The quality of
this water will not necessarily match the standards of modern drinking water and may vary over
time, with rainfall, usage, and even tidal conditions affecting salinity levels. Overall, the best
sources of water appear to have been on Itu Aba and South-West Cay. The Tribunal notes the
expert evidence submitted by the Philippines on the limited capacity to be expected of the
freshwater lens at Itu Aba, but also notes that these conclusions are predicated in part on the fact
that the construction of the airstrip on the feature would have reduced the soil’s capacity to
absorb rainwater and regenerate the freshwater lens.614 Ultimately, the Tribunal notes that the
freshwater resources of these features, combined presumably with rainwater collection,
evidently have supported small numbers of people in the past (see paragraph 601 below) and
concludes that they are therefore able to do so in their natural condition, whether or not that
remains the case today.
(b)

Vegetation and Biology

585. The record likewise indicates that the larger features in the Spratly Islands have historically
been vegetated. The 1868 edition of the British China Sea Directory describes Itu Aba as
“covered with small trees and high bushes” and notes the presence of “two or three cocoa-nut
and a few plantain trees near a small well, but the most conspicuous object is a single black
clump tree.”615 Thitu is similarly described as having a “dark clump tree”, as well as “some low
bushes and two stunted cocoa-nut trees, near to which is a small well and a few plantain
trees.”616 Namyit was described in 1888 as “well covered by small trees and shrubs,”617 Loaita
was “covered with bushes”,618 and both cays on North Danger Reef were “covered with coarse

613

I.M. Chen, “Water Quality Survey in South China Sea and Taiping Island Sea Region,” in L. Fang &
K. Lee (eds.), Policy Guiding Principles: The Report for the Ecological Environment Survey on South
Sea, p. 187 at p. 194 (1994).

614

See generally First Bailey Report; Second Bailey Report.

615

Admiralty Hydrographic Office, China Sea Directory, Vol. II, p. 70 (1st ed., 1868).

616

Admiralty Hydrographic Office, China Sea Directory, Vol. II, p. 72 (1st ed., 1868).

617

Report of the Results of an Examination by the Officers of H.M.S. Rambler of the Slopes and Zoological
Condition of Tizard and Macclesfield Banks, UKHO Ref. HD106 at p. 15 (1888).

618

Admiralty Hydrographic Office, China Sea Directory, Vol. II, p. 71 (1st ed., 1868).

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grass.”619 During the same period, however, Spratly Island is noted as having “not a bush or
even a blade of grass.”620 The crew of HMS Rifleman were also noted to have been planting
coconut trees on Spratly Island and Amboyna Cay in 1864, in order to increase visibility of the
features.621
586. Over time, the level of vegetation on the features appears to have increased, with Japanese
commercial interests (discussed in paragraph 610 to 611 below) having made a concerted effort
to introduce fruit trees on Itu Aba. An account from 1919 notes that “[a] huge number of
banana trees grew densely everywhere on the island. Also, wild mice ran on trees everywhere
on the island, and almost all the ripe bananas had become food for the mice. In fact, the island
was dominated by mice.”622 By 1933, Itu Aba is described as having “a dense forest of papaya.
Papaya trees which were originally planted by the Japanese spilled their seeds, and thrifted
through the whole island. In addition, there remained fine palm fields, pineapple fields and
sugar cane fields.”623
587. In contrast, the Division Botanique à l’Institut des Recherches Agronomiques de L’Indochine
recorded a lower level of vegetation on Namyit Island and Sand Cay. The vegetation on Namyit
Island is described as being “of poorer quality than that on Itu-Aba.”624 The Report notes that
certain plants exist “rather abundantly” but that about 15 coconut trees “are the only trees on the
island.”625 The report further notes that Sand Cay had no trees, and describes the vegetation as
“herbaceous” but “sickly”.626
588. The source of the crops recorded on Itu Aba is made clear from a 1939 account of commercial
activities during the period of Japanese presence that records as follows:
The company made an effort to develop the island for settlement, and studied the
propagation of palm trees, cultivation of papayas, pineapples and bananas, extraction of
copra, utilization of papayas, processing of pineapples, etc., and the company grew
vegetables to supply food.

619

Admiralty Hydrographic Office, China Sea Directory, Vol. II, p. 74 (1st ed., 1868).

620

Admiralty Hydrographic Office, China Sea Directory, Vol. II, p. 66 (1st ed., 1868).

621

Letter from Commander Ward, HMS Rifleman, to the Hydrographer of the Admiralty (29 July 1864).

622

U. Kokura, The Islands of Storm, pp. 182-183 (1940).

623

“Look, Japan Made Significant Marks Everywhere,” Osaka Asahi Shimbum (6 September 1933).

624

“Visite Botanique au Récif Tizard,” Bulletin économique de l’Indo-Chine, pp. 772 (September-October
1936) (translation from the French original).

625

“Visite Botanique au Récif Tizard,” Bulletin économique de l’Indo-Chine, pp. 772 (September-October
1936) (translation from the French original).

626

“Visite Botanique au Récif Tizard,” Bulletin économique de l’Indo-Chine, pp. 772 (September-October
1936) (translation from the French original).

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Papayas grew vigorously everywhere on Long Island, and the island was also called the
Island of Papayas.627

589. Another Japanese account from 1939 records that:
As for the plants, in addition to the short trees of two or three meters, there are 131 palm
trees 7 to 10 meters tall, which bear a lot of fruit every year. In addition, there are 31 hard
trees, two meters in circumference and 15 meters tall. Further, there are 80 soft trees, one
meter in circumference and about 10 meters tall. Besides, there are many trees,
20 centimeters in circumference and about three meters tall growing densely. Besides
these, there are a number of papaya and banana trees.
Considerable portion of the open land mentioned above has started to be used as an
agriculture field, and napa and radish are grown there.
As for animals, many chickens and pigs are farmed . . . .628

590. The Japanese account is confirmed by the French, in a 1936 report by the Division Botanique à
l’Institut des Recherches Agronomiques de L’Indochine, which provides the most detailed
historical account of vegetation on Itu Aba:
As expected, the vegetation of the island is very poor in species. Besides the imported
plants: one hundred coconut (well aligned on a southern part of the island and sufficiently
well developed to date already from an earlier time), castor oil and papaya trees scattered
around the island, twenty species have been identified.
The east side and south of the island, better protected monsoon is covered with beautiful
vegetation, the more luxurious being found in soil rich in phosphates. The north and the
west, on the contrary, although having the same botanical species, are covered with tortured
vegetation, stripped of leaves, and with a lot of dead plants.
The best trees are Gordia subcordata (Boraginées) over 20 m. high having trunks up to
2 m. of diameter. They are quite numerous and scattered all over the island, especially
towards the center.
Two Erythrina indica, also at the center of the island, reach 20 m. tall with trunks of 1 m. in
diameter.
From the center and to the east is a stand of young tropical almond (Terminalia Catappa)
from 5 to 6 meters, most of which are the sprouts of ancient tropical almonds, without a
doubt used by the phosphate operators. From this population, only 1 Calophyllurn
inophyllum, very vigorous, reaches 5-6 meters in height.
To the northeast, twenty Macaranga, whose species could not be determined due to lack of
flowers and fruit, reach 15 to 20 meters in height. They rub shoulders with some Ochrosia
borbonica 10 meters high bearing ovoid fruits that exude a white latex.
These are the only trees present in the island. Some shrub species also grow there. One of
them, Scaevola Kocniaii (Goode niacée), reaching 5-6 meters high, forms a belt of
vegetation all around the island, leaving nothing beyond it but the beaches of white sand.
But while these shrubs are vigorous, very green and covered with their white fruit on the
south side – they are dead on the north side, and form no more than a hedge of branches.

627

Y. Yamamoto, “The Brief History of the Sinnan Islands,” Science of Taiwan, Vol. 7, No. 3 (1939).

628

H. Hiratsuka, “The Extended Base for the Expansion of the Fishery Business to Southern Area: New
Southern Archipelago–On-Site Survey Report,” Taiwan Times (May 1939).

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At the center of the island, some Guettarda speciosa of 2 to 4 m. high live mixed with
Morinda citrifolia (variety bracteata) that are very vigorous and full of fruit.
In the southwest of the island of Umlaut volutina (Urticaceae) of Gapsicum fructicosum
(Solanaceae) with red fruits, Clitoria macrophylla (Papilionaceae) invaded in part by
Capparis pumila, are mixed with castor probably imported by the phosphate miners.
Everywhere, too, there are papaya, probably also introduced.
The live coverage is provided by several herbaceous species. A fern reaching over 1m.
high, Blechnum sp., forms an almost impenetrable thicket over a large part of the island.
Some sedges, Mariscus albescens, grow at the foot of the Cordia and seem to suffer from
drought. Some Grasses: Thuaria sarmentosa and Ischoemum sp. meet here and there along
the beach. Finally, to the south and center of the island, probably where the original
vegetation has been destroyed for the extraction of phosphate, there is an endless carpet of
Ipomoea biloba covered with purple or white flowers and fruits. In the North, the ground
cover consists of a creeping Tilliacée, Triumfetta radicans, which is located on the beach
and in the interior of the island.
To complete this review of the vegetation, in the southwest of the islands, a few Pandanus
are loaded with large fruits.
In short, as was to be expected and apart from the introduced plants, the vegetation is very
poor since it is reduced to twenty species.
The island is now completely abandoned and the empty areas will probably reforest with
similar species to existing ones.629

591. By 1947, following the war, Itu Aba was described in the following terms:
There are many tropical plants growing here—the land is covered in distinctly beautiful
light purple and red morning glories, which are also common on the beaches of Taiwan.
Morning glories are part of the Verbenaceae family (Lippia Nodiflora (L.) L. C. Rich), and
its Chinese name is Guojiangteng (Quwucao).
There are many Barbados nut
(Nyctaginaceae family (Pisoniaalda Spanoghe), Chinese name Bishuang) and Yinye Zidan
(Tournefortia ArgenfeaL, F, Boraginaceae family) (generally growing on sand by the beach
(AG-12), and these plants grow very thickly. Barbados nut grows very quickly, but the
timber is not solid; the trees have diameters over ten centimeters, which can usually be
toppled by one person. It cannot be used for anything other than firewood. The islands
also have coconut and banana, which taste good, but they are not numerous. Papaya and
the castor oil plant also grow very well; these two may be planted in large quantities. The
soldiers stationed on the island have cleared land to plant vegetables, which can grow, but
there is a great deal of pest damage. The Taiping Island Series [of soil] may be cultivated
to provide fruits and vegetables to stationed troops with no problem; but it would not be
meaningful to grow grains for consumption.630

592. Photos of Itu Aba from 1951 also show it as thickly wooded.631
593. The Tribunal considers the record to indicate that Itu Aba and Thitu to have been the most
heavily forested features in their natural condition, with other features covered in low bushes,
grasses, and heavy scrub. Moreover, at least Itu Aba appears to have been amenable to the
629

“Visite Botanique au Récif Tizard,” Bulletin économique de l’Indo-Chine, pp. 770-771 (SeptemberOctober 1936) (translation from the French original).

630

L. Xi, “Summary of Land of Guangdong Nansha Islands,” Soil Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 3, p. 77 at p. 80
(1947) (Annex 885).

631

HMS Dampier, Report on Visit to Itu Aba and Spratly Islands, UKHO Ref. H02716/1951 (1951).

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introduction and cultivation of papaya and banana trees, even if such species do not necessarily
appear to have been naturally occurring. The features also appear to have suffered from the
imbalances common to small islands faced with introduced species, resulting in rapid shifts in
the flora and fauna.
(c)

Soil and Agricultural Potential

594. The historical record before the Tribunal contains less information concerning soil quality on
features in the Spratly Islands, and such details are generally not recorded in historical accounts.
HMS Rambler noted in 1888 that on Namyit, “[t]he soil of the island was very brown and
earthy at the surface, but below a loose oolitic rock.”632 The Division Botanique à l’Institut des
Recherches Agronomiques de L’Indochine who visited Itu Aba in 1936 recorded the presence of
coral sand, natural phosphate, and guano. The Division also analysed an average sample of soil
and determined that 87 percent of it contained sand.633 Further, a Japanese description of Itu
Aba in 1939 notes that it “is covered by black soil.” 634 None of these observations is
particularly insightful with respect to the agricultural potential of the feature.
595. Recent scientific evidence is varied. A 1947 Chinese study discusses two types of soil on Itu
Aba and concludes that the more rich is “lush with morning glories; the coconut and banana
trees are doing well, but not many have been planted; the castor oil plant grows very well and is
unusually prosperous.”635 The same study notes that “approximately 250 meters to the east of
the radio station and slightly to the north, in the Barbados nut shrubs, there is a small vegetable
patch of only slightly over 2 mu [1,333 square metres]; the vegetables are growing decently but
there is pest damage.” 636 Another description from 1994, apparently drawing on scientific
accounts, describes the soil on Itu Aba in the following terms:
Sand layers accumulated in the central area of the island. Layers of bird feces reach
30 centimeters. The lower layers are lithified bird feces. Especially in the western area of
the island, layers of bird feces reach 1 meter. In many cases, humus soils are on these
layers, and thus people may cultivate crops.637

632

Report of the Results of an Examination by the Officers of H.M.S. Rambler of the Slopes and Zoological
Condition of Tizard and Macclesfield Banks, UKHO Ref. HD106 at p. 15 (1888).

633

“Visite Botanique au Récif Tizard,” Bulletin économique de l’Indo-Chine, pp. 773-775 (SeptemberOctober 1936) (translation from the French original).

634

“Determination Regarding Jurisdiction of New Southern Archipelago will be Announced Today,” Osaka
Asahi Shimbum (18 April 1939).

635

L. Xi, “Summary of Land of Guangdong Nansha Islands,” Soil Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 3, p. 77 at p. 79 (1947).

636

L. Xi, “Summary of Land of Guangdong Nansha Islands,” Soil Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 3, p. 77 at p. 79 (1947).

637

N. Fujishima, “Discussions on the names of islands in the Southern China Sea,” The Hokkaido General
Education Review of Komazawa University Vol. 9, p. 56 (1994).

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596. The Tribunal also takes note of the Philippines’ caution that present-day agriculture may
involve the use of imported soil,638 as well as the expert evidence provided by the Philippines
that the capacity of the soil on Itu Aba to sustain extensive cultivation is low, as would be the
output of such cultivation.639 Ultimately, the Tribunal considers the most instructive evidence to
be the clear indication that fruit and vegetables were being grown on Itu Aba during the period
of Japanese commercial activity (see paragraph 589 above and paragraphs 610 to 611 below).
The Tribunal sees no evidence that this would have involved the importation of soil and
concludes that it most likely reflects the capacity of the feature in its natural condition. At the
same time, the Tribunal accepts the point that the capacity for such cultivation would be limited
and that agriculture on Itu Aba would not suffice, on its own, to support a sizable population.
The Tribunal also considers that the capacity of other features in the Spratly Islands would be
even more limited and that significant cultivation would be difficult beyond the larger and more
vegetated features of Itu Aba and Thitu.
(d)

Presence of Fishermen

597. The record before the Tribunal indicates the consistent presence of small numbers of fishermen,
mostly from Hainan, on the main features in the Spratly Islands. A footnote to the description
of Tizard Bank in the 1868 edition of the China Sea Directory reads as follows:
Hainan fisherman, who subsist by collecting trepang and tortoise-shell, were found upon
most of these islands, some of whom remain for years amongst the reefs. Junks from
Hainan annually visit the islands and reefs of the China Sea with supplies of rice and other
necessaries, for which the fishermen give trepang and other articles in exchange, and remit
their profits home; the junks leave Hainan in December or January, and return with the first
of the S.W. monsoon. The fishermen upon Itu-Aba island were more comfortably
established than the others . . . .640

598. The same volume likewise indicates that the cays on North Danger Reef “are frequented by
Chinese fishermen from Hainan, who collect beche-de-mer, turtle-shell, &c. and supply
themselves with water from a well in the centre of the north-eastern cay.”641 HMS Rambler
reported conversations with “natives (Chinese)” on Namyit in 1888, and in 1926 on North
Danger Reef HMS Iroquois described “four native fishermen, apparently from Hainan, . . .
residing on the islets, living in a hut on N.E. Cay and visiting S.W. Cay periodically for water.
Their occupation was fishing for beche-de-mer on the reefs. A junk from Hainan spent a week

638

Written Responses of the Philippines, para. 98 (11 March 2016).

639

First Motavalli Report.

640

Admiralty Hydrographic Office, China Sea Directory, Vol. II, p. 71 (1st ed., 1868).

641

Admiralty Hydrographic Office, China Sea Directory, Vol. II, p. 74 (1st ed., 1868).

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fishing for beche-de-mer on North Reef during this period.” 642 The 1951 China Sea Pilot
likewise reports that “Thi tu island was inhabited by 5 Chinese in 1933.”643
599. A report of the French arrival on Itu Aba in 1933 recorded “Chinese from Hainan managed to
survive on the cays (small rocky islands surrounded by coralliferous reefs) from turtle and sea
cucumber fishing, as well as a small area planted with coconut and banana trees and
potatoes.” 644 A later visit in 1936 by the Division Botanique à l’Institut des Recherches
Agronomiques de L’Indochine recorded that “[t]he only persons on the island seem to be at
present, the Chinese and Japanese fishermen that the ocean-going junks drop off and pick in the
course of their seasonal journeys from China–Singapore and from Japan–Singapore and
back.”645 Finally, a French Government report from 1939, describing the Spratly Islands, noted
that “[t]here is no doubt that since time immemorial, these islands were frequented and even
temporarily inhabited by the Chinese, Malay, and Annamite fishermen that haunt these parts.”646
600. In 1951, HMS Dampier reported on a visit to Itu Aba and described meeting a significant
number of Filipinos, as well as individuals who appeared to be from Hainan, although their
purpose for being at Itu Aba is reported as being unclear and no fishing gear was observed.647
601. Taken as a whole, the Tribunal concludes that the Spratly Islands were historically used by
small groups of fishermen. Based on the clear reference from 1868, the Tribunal also accepts
that some of these individuals were present in the Spratlys for comparatively long periods of
time, with an established network of trade and intermittent supply. At the same time, the overall
number of individuals engaged in this livelihood appears to have been significantly constrained.
(e)

Commercial Operations

602. The 1941 edition of the Japanese Pilot for Taiwan and the Southwest Islands, providing sailing
directions for the South China Sea, includes a general introduction, covering Japanese
commercial activities in the area between 1917 and 1939 in the following terms:
The group was first explored by MATSUJI HIRADA in June 1917; next the RASASHIMA
Phosphate Co. (now the RASASHINA WORKS Co.) made 3 expeditions between the years
642

HMS Iroquois, Sailing Directions to accompany Chart of North Danger (North-East Cay and South-West
Cay) (1926).

643

Admiralty Hydrographic Office, China Sea Pilot, Vol. I, p. 126 (2nd ed., 1951).

644

“French Flag over the Unoccupied Islets,” The Illustration (15 July 1933).

645

“Visite Botanique au Récif Tizard,” Bulletin économique de l’Indo-Chine, p. 771 (September-October
1936) (translation from the French original).

646

“Les Iles Spratly,” Document No. 210, p. 7 (5 April 1939).

647

HMS Dampier, Report on Visit to Itu Aba and Spratly Islands, UKHO Ref. H02716/1951 (1951).

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1918 to 1923 and although excavations were planned at [Itu Aba] and [Northeast and
South-West Cay] operations were suspended in 1929 owing to the business falling off and
all personnel were withdrawn. Thereafter in 1937 the Kaiyo Kogyo Kabushiki Kaisha
(Ocean Exploration Industrial Co. Ltd.) commenced an investigation of the industrial
resources of these islands and at the same time conferred a public benefit generally by
weather reports communicating with fishing vessels, replenishing supplies, assisting in
shipwrecks, &c. Most recently the Nanyo Kohatsu Kabushiki Kaisha (Southern Ocean
Enterprise Co. Ltd.) has commenced plans for the working of phosphates and the Hakuyo
Suisan Kabushiki Kaisha (Ocean Exploration Marine Products Co. Ltd.) for marine
produce; since then personnel of both companies reside continuously at [Itu Aba] the total
number of persons being about 130 including officials.
On the basis of this history the Imperial Government formally proclaimed possession of
this group on 30th March, 1939. Nevertheless the French Government in July, 1933, upon
the discovery of new islands and islets in the adjacent South China Sea proclaimed
possession of the [Southern Archipelago]; at the present time near the E. end of [Itu Aba]
there are about 20 persons staying permanently who are said to belong to the French
Indo-China Registered Company.648

603. In the Tribunal’s view, this summary appears to correspond with other evidence in the record
concerning Japanese commercial and industrial activities on Itu Aba and South-West Cay.
HMS Iroquois’ 1926 report on South-West Cay confirms the presence of significant guano
mining:
The islet is a breeding place for sea birds, and is covered with guano, the export of which
has at some time been carried out on a considerable scale. In this connection a number of
low wooden sheds and buildings have been erected on the south side of the island, but in
May 1926 it appeared that they had been disused for some time. A trolley way runs from a
guano quarry in the centre of the island to a pier on the southern side.
Pier. A wooden pier, 330 feet long in a south-easterly direction, and with a least depth of
1 foot (0.3.M) at low water at its outer end, is situated near the centre of the southeastern
side of the islet. It carries the trolley way referred to in the previous paragraph, and in May
1926 was in a poor state of repair.649

604. The same infrastructure is clearly visible in the 1926 fair chart of North Danger Reef,
reproduced below as Figure 11 on page 248.
605. Although HMS Iroquois described the facility as inactive, a British account from the following
year noted that:
In July, 1927, H.M.S. Caradoc visited the reef and found a small Japanese schooner lying
close to the pier; there were about 8 persons on board and at least 12 living ashore. The
Japanese said that from 3,000 to 5,000 tons of guano were exported annually, a steamer
shipping this cargo once a year.650

606. A similar mining operation was established on Itu Aba in 1921 and later described as follows:

648

English translation of Japanese Pilot for Taiwan and the South-West Islands, Vol. V, p. 243 (March 1941
ed.), “Sailing Directions for Shinnan Guntao,” UKHO Ref. H019893/1944.

649

HMS Iroquois, Sailing Directions to accompany Chart of North Danger (North-East Cay and South-West
Cay), p. 1 (1926).

650

Sailing Direction for the Dangerous Ground, UKHO Ref. HD384, p. 4 (1944 ed.).

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The mining of phosphate ore started to operate in 1921 in full swing. On Long Island,
which is the base for the mining, various facilities for the mining business were eventually
prepared: for example, dormitories, warehouses, offices, a clinic, an analysis room, a
weather station, etc. were built; a jetty of 84 KEN length to get goods on board was
constructed on the sea; and tracks were made in the mining area. At that time about 200
Japanese people lived there, and it is said that the number reached about 600 by 1927.
During this period, the company mined 25,900 tons of guano, and the value of it was about
727,000 yen.651

Figure 11: Survey of South-West Cay by HMS Iroquois, 1926

607. Another account from the same year records that:
Itu Aba Island, which is called the Long Island and which has economic value. The island
is the largest island in the New Southern Archipelago, and Rasa Island Phosphate Ore Ltd.,
of Ministry of Southern Ocean mined phosphate ore there from 1924 to 1926. Offices,
dormitories and jetties were constructed on the land, and about 200 employees were
engaged in mining.652

608. By 1933, however, mining operations had apparently ceased. When the French briefly occupied
Itu Aba that year it was deserted, and described as follows:
The island was deserted, but two occupants had left their mark: cement wells, remains of
an iron jetty, rusted rail tracks on the embankment, and a pile of abandoned phosphates
bore witness to a Japanese enterprise dating back to 1925; then a hut made out of foliage, a
well maintained potato field, a little altar with a votive tea light and stick jars to the Lar
gods of the Chinese fishermen. A board hung on a hut, covered with characters which
could roughly be translated as “I, Ti Mung, Chief of the Junk, come here in the full moon

651

Y. Yamamoto, “The Brief History of the Sinnan Islands,” Science of Taiwan, Vol. 7, No. 3 (1939).

652

“Determination Regarding Jurisdiction of New Southern Archipelago will be Announced Today,” Osaka
Asahi Shimbum (18 April 1939).

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of March to bring you food. I found nobody, I left rice in the shelter of the rocks and I
left.”653

609. A Japanese account from the same year records the remnants of the mining operation:
Over 10,000 tons of phosphate ore were stored here which looked like a castle wall. A
Japanese-style protection bank was made on the seashore, and the frames of a big water
tank were desolately abandoned: it is said that the iron plates were taken by pirates. All
buildings were destroyed, and the area bleakly became a papaya forest. Almost all of the
lumber was moved to other places, and only concrete flag stones of tank wells remained; it
was done in a more thorough way than that of starving wolves devouring their prey. The
weighing machine, located at the place which used to be an analysis room, is only thing
protecting Japanese science which had spread to the south.654

610. By 1937, however, a new Japanese commercial presence had been established on Itu Aba in the
form of the Kaiyo Kogyo Company, engaged in the fishing industry. This is confirmed in the
account of HMS Herald’s visit to the area in that year, which includes the description that:
A fishing company also live on the island and engage in the turtle industry. There would
appear to be about 40 of these men, mostly Formosans by appearance, who live in large
wooden huts. The manager of the company, who only understands a few words of English,
Mr. Sadae Chiya, Kaiyokogyo Co. Ltd, Takao Formosa. He lives in an attractive little hut
of two rooms.
Also on the island are a generator for electric power, and what looked like a small wireless
transmitting and received set.”655

611. A Japanese account from 1939 confirms the same facts:
In the early Showa era, the area around the island became the major fishing places for tunas
and shellfish based on Kaohsiung City, and the Japanese were active there. They got water
in Long Island (the Itu Aba Island) and North Danger (so called the Danger Island). In
other words, at that time, the place was considerably developed as a fishery advanced base
of Kaohsiung, and thus the fishermen of Kaohsiung feel that it is strange for the
government to announce that the place will be incorporated into Kaohsiung after all these
years. After that, Kaiyo Kogyo Company was established as suggested by Mr. Sueharu
Hirata, who is a resident of Kaohsiung City in 1935. The purposes of the company are
fishery and mining phosphate ore. The company is based in the Long Island having
employees there and has operated business to date. 656

612. During the war, Itu Aba was used as a base of operations by Japanese forces and bombed by
aircraft of the U.S. Navy in May 1945.657 HMS Dampier’s account of a visit to the island in
1951 records “the remains of what must have been a flourishing concern, before it was

653

“French Flag on the Unoccupied Islands,” Illustration (1933).

654

“Look, Japan Made Significant Marks Everywhere,” Osaka Asahi Shimbum (6 September 1933).

655

HMS Herald, Report of 1937 Visit to Thitu and Itu Aba, UKHO Ref. H2499/1937 at p. 3 (1937).

656

“Determination Regarding Jurisdiction of New Southern Archipelago will be Announced Today,” Osaka
Asahi Shimbum (18 April 1939). The Shōwa era, referred to in this quotation, began in 1926,
corresponding with the ascension of the Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito) to the imperial throne of Japan.

657

“The Texts of the Day’s Communiques on the Fighting in Various War Zones,” New York Times
(4 May 1945); “Australians Widen Borneo Grip; Americans Crash Way into Davao,” New York Times
(4 May 1945).

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demolished by shellfire and/or bombing.”658 Photographs taken during the visit also depict a
number of large concrete buildings, although whether these were of military construction or the
remains of installations built by the Kaiyo Kogyo Company, or another commercial concern, is
unclear.
613. Following the war, a Chinese survey of Itu Aba noted the poor mineral content of guano
extracted from the Spratly Islands—an issue that may well partially explain the failure of the
Rasashima Phosphate Company’s operations in the 1920s—and identified fisheries as the
mostly likely potential commercial use of the islands:
The reserve of phosphoric guano is estimated to be over 70,000 tons. However, the content
of available phosphoric acid is too low and should not be directly applied. There is greater
variation in content and quality is uneven, thus it is not suitable as raw material to produce
phosphoric lime.
Moreover, sulfuric acid is expensive, which would increase
manufacturing costs to the point of being uneconomical. Furthermore, the Nansha Islands
are over 600 nautical miles from Yulin Harbor. Transportation is inconvenient and
uneconomical, and the phosphoric guano in the Nansha Islands is not very valuable.
However, it is possible to transport guano back to Guangdong when ships supplying the
island return. We plan to engage in research on usage of the phosphoric guano; if it is
possible to improve its fertilizer efficacy, then it would meet the needs of lands in southern
China, which are short on phosphate fertilizers.
We believe that in the Nansha Islands, the industry with the best prospects is fishing. The
lagoon is calm and a good place to fish. The area is rich in skipjack tuna, abalone, pale
fish, shark, sea cucumber, sponge, and kelp. The most valuable are big tortoises and sea
turtles, as large as five to six hundred jin [300 to 360 kg]. They lay their eggs on the beach
in moonlit nights in the spring and summer; this is the easiest time to catch them. Their
meat is edible, tastes like beef, and is highly nutritious. Their eggs can be used to make
highly valuable medicines. Since the Japanese have constructed a 30-square meters of fishdrying courtyard and refrigeration facilities on the island, there are great expectations for
the fishery industry in this area.659

614. There is, however, no evidence of any commercial fishing operation having been established in
the Spratly Islands since 1945. Nor, in light of the advances in shipbuilding and fishing
technology since that date, does the Tribunal see that a base of operations on a small, isolated
feature such as Itu Aba would be economically necessary, or even beneficial. Rather, the
historical record indicates only a short period of activity by Thomas Cloma of the Philippines
and his associates (who may well have been the Filipinos encountered on Itu Aba in 1951 by the
crew of HMS Dampier), who sought to devise a commercial scheme for the islands.660 There is
no evidence, however, that Mr. Cloma or his associates ever took up residence in the Spratlys or
succeeded in deriving the least economic benefit from them. Malaysia has also established a

658

HMS Dampier, Report on Visit to Itu Aba and Spratly Islands, UKHO Ref. H02716/1951 at para. 10
(21 April 1951).

659

L. Xi, “Summary of Land of Guangdong Nansha Islands,” Soil Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 3, p. 77 at p. 80
(1947).

660

See generally B. Hayton, The South China Sea, pp. 65-70 (2014).

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small resort and scuba diving enterprise on Swallow Reef, but this operation is only possible
due to significant land reclamation activities that have enlarged the small high-tide rocks on the
reef; it does not represent the natural capacity of the feature. Otherwise, human activity on the
Spratly Islands appears to be entirely governmental in nature.
ii.

The Application of Article 121 and the Tribunal’s Conclusions on the Status
of Features

615. On the basis of the evidence in the record, it appears to the Tribunal that the principal high-tide
features in the Spratly islands are capable of enabling the survival of small groups of people.
There is historical evidence of potable water, although of varying quality, that could be
combined with rainwater collection and storage. There is also naturally occurring vegetation
capable of providing shelter and the possibility of at least limited agriculture to supplement the
food resources of the surrounding waters.

The record indicates that small numbers of

fishermen, mainly from Hainan, have historically been present on Itu Aba and the other more
significant features and appear to have survived principally on the basis of the resources at hand
(notwithstanding the references to annual deliveries of rice and other sundries).
616. The principal features of the Spratly Islands are not barren rocks or sand cays, devoid of fresh
water, that can be dismissed as uninhabitable on the basis of their physical characteristics alone.
At the same time, the features are not obviously habitable, and their capacity even to enable
human survival appears to be distinctly limited. In these circumstances, and with features that
fall close to the line in terms of their capacity to sustain human habitation, the Tribunal
considers that the physical characteristics of the features do not definitively indicate the capacity
of the features. Accordingly, the Tribunal is called upon to consider the historical evidence of
human habitation and economic life on the Spratly Islands and the implications of such
evidence for the natural capacity of the features.
617. In addition to the presence of fishermen noted above, Itu Aba and South-West Cay were the site
of Japanese mining and fishing activities in the 1920s and 1930s. The Spratlys were also the
site of the somewhat more adventurous activities of Thomas Cloma and his associates in the
1950s. More recently, many of the features have been transformed by substantial construction
efforts and are now the site of installations hosting significant numbers of personnel, generally
of a governmental nature. The first question for the Tribunal is whether any of this activity
constitutes “human habitation” or an “economic life of its own” for the purposes of
Article 121(3). The second is whether there is evidence to suggest that the historical record of
human activity on the Spratly Islands is not proof of the natural capacity of the features.

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(a)

Historical Human Habitation of the Features of the Spratly Islands

618. For the Tribunal, the criterion of human habitation is not met by the temporary inhabitation of
the Spratly Islands by fishermen, even for extended periods.

As discussed above at

paragraph 542, the Tribunal considers human habitation to entail the non-transient inhabitation
of a feature by a stable community of people for whom the feature constitutes a home and on
which they can remain. This standard is not met by the historical presence of fishermen that
appears in the record before the Tribunal.

Indeed, the very fact that the fishermen are

consistently recorded as being “from Hainan”, or elsewhere, is evidence for the Tribunal that
they do not represent the natural population of the Spratlys. Nowhere is there any reference to
the fishermen “of Itu Aba”, “of Thitu”, or “of North Danger Reef,” nor is there any suggestion
that the fishermen were accompanied by their families. Nor do any of the descriptions of
conditions on the features suggest the creation of the shelter and facilities that the Tribunal
would expect for a population intending to reside permanently among the islands. Rather, the
record indicates a pattern of temporary residence on the features for economic purposes, with
the fishermen remitting their profits, and ultimately returning, to the mainland.
619. The same conclusion holds true with respect to Japanese commercial activities on Itu Aba and
South-West Cay. A crew of Formosan labourers, brought to the Spratlys to mine guano or
capture sea turtles, is inherently transient in nature: their objective was to extract the economic
resources of the Spratlys for the benefit of the populations of Formosa and Japan to which they
would return. It was not to make a new life for themselves on the islands. It may of course
occur, and frequently does, that what is initially a remote outpost of an extractive industry will
develop over time into a settled community. This did not, however, occur in the case of either
Itu Aba or South-West Cay. The temporary presence of these persons on the features for a few
short years does not suffice to establish a settled community within the meaning of “human
habitation” in Article 121(3).
620. Finally, the Tribunal does not consider that the military or other governmental personnel
presently stationed on the features in the Spratly Islands by one or another of the littoral States
suffice to constitute “human habitation” for the purposes of Article 121(3). These groups are
heavily dependent on outside supply, and it is difficult to see how their presence on any of the
South China Sea features can fairly be said to be sustained by the feature itself, rather than by a
continuous lifeline of supply and communication from the mainland.

Military or other

governmental personnel are deployed to the Spratly Islands in an effort to support the various
claims to sovereignty that have been advanced. There is no evidence that they choose to inhabit
there of their own volition, nor can it be expected that any would remain if the official need for
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their presence were to dissipate. Even where the current human presence in the Spratly Islands
includes civilians, as is the case on at least Thitu and (very recently) Itu Aba, the Tribunal
considers that their presence there is motivated by official considerations and would not have
occurred, but for the disputed claims to sovereignty over these features.
621. The Tribunal sees no indication that anything fairly resembling a stable human community has
ever formed on the Spratly Islands. Rather, the islands have been a temporary refuge and base
of operations for fishermen and a transient residence for labourers engaged in mining and
fishing. The introduction of the exclusive economic zone was not intended to grant extensive
maritime entitlements to small features whose historical contribution to human settlement is as
slight as that. Nor was the exclusive economic zone intended to encourage States to establish
artificial populations in the hope of making expansive claims, precisely what has now occurred
in the South China Sea.

On the contrary, Article 121(3) was intended to prevent such

developments and to forestall a provocative and counterproductive effort to manufacture
entitlements.
622. The Tribunal sees no evidence that would suggest that the historical absence of human
habitation on the Spratly Islands is the product of intervening forces or otherwise does not
reflect the limited capacity of the features themselves. Accordingly, the Tribunal concludes that
Itu Aba, Thitu, West York, Spratly Island, South-West Cay, and North-East Cay are not capable
of sustaining human habitation within the meaning of Article 121(3). The Tribunal has also
considered, and reaches the same conclusion with respect to, the other, less significant high-tide
features in the Spratly Islands, which are even less capable of sustaining human habitation, but
does not consider it necessary to list them individually.
(b)

Historical Economic Life of Their Own of the Features of the Spratly
Islands

623. In the Tribunal’s view, all of the economic activity in the Spratly Islands that appears in the
historical record has been essentially extractive in nature (i.e., mining for guano, collecting
shells, and fishing), aimed to a greater or lesser degree at utilising the resources of the Spratlys
for the benefit of the populations of Hainan, Formosa, Japan, the Philippines, Viet Nam, or
elsewhere. As set out above at paragraph 543, the Tribunal considers that, to constitute the
economic life of the feature, economic activity must be oriented around the feature itself and not
be focused solely on the surrounding territorial sea or entirely dependent on external resources.
The Tribunal also considers that extractive economic activity, without the presence of a stable
local community, necessarily falls short of constituting the economic life of the feature.

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624. Applying this standard, the history of extractive economic activity does not constitute, for the
features of the Spratly Islands, evidence of an economic life of their own. In reaching this
conclusion, however, the Tribunal takes pains to emphasise that the effect of Article 121(3) is
not to deny States the benefit of the economic resources of small rocks and maritime features.
Such features remain susceptible to a claim of territorial sovereignty and will generate a
12-nautical-mile territorial sea, provided they remain above water at high tide. Rather, the
effect of Article 121(3) is to prevent such features—whose economic benefit, if any, to the State
which controls them is for resources alone—from generating a further entitlement to a
200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone and continental shelf that would infringe on the
entitlements generated by inhabited territory or on the area reserved for the common heritage of
mankind.
625. The Tribunal concludes that Itu Aba, Thitu, West York, Spratly Island, South-West Cay, and
North-East Cay are not capable of sustaining an economic life of their own within the meaning
of Article 121(3). The Tribunal has also considered, and reaches the same conclusion with
respect to, the other, less significant high-tide features in the Spratly Islands, which are even
less capable of sustaining economic life, but does not consider it necessary to list them
individually.
*
626. The Tribunal having concluded that none of the high-tide features in the Spratly Islands is
capable of sustaining human habitation or an economic life of their own, the effect of
Article 121(3) is that such features shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.
(e)

Decision on the Tribunal’s Jurisdiction with respect to Submission No. 5

627. Having addressed the status of features in the Spratly Islands, the Tribunal can now return to the
question of its jurisdiction with respect to the Philippines’ Submission No. 5, which requests the
Tribunal to declare that “Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal are part of the exclusive
economic zone and continental shelf of the Philippines.”

The Tribunal will consider its

jurisdiction both with respect to the exception in Article 298 for disputes concerning sea
boundary delimitation and with respect to the effect of States that are not Parties to the present
proceedings.

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i.

Maritime Boundary Delimitation and the Tribunal’s Jurisdiction

628. In its Award on Jurisdiction, the Tribunal deferred taking a decision on this aspect of its
jurisdiction, noting that this was contingent on a determination on the status of the maritime
features that the Tribunal was not prepared to make as a preliminary matter. In that decision,
the Tribunal noted as follows:
the Tribunal’s jurisdiction to decide on the merits of some of the Philippines’ Submissions
may depend upon the status of certain maritime features in the South China Sea.
Specifically, if (contrary to the Philippines’ position) any maritime feature in the Spratly
Islands constitutes an “island” within the meaning of Article 121 of the Convention,
generating an entitlement to an exclusive economic zone or continental shelf, it may be the
case that the Philippines and China possess overlapping entitlements to maritime zones in
the relevant areas of the South China Sea. In that case, the Tribunal may not be able to
reach the merits of certain of the Philippines’ Submissions (Nos. 5, 8, and 9) without first
delimiting the Parties’ overlapping entitlements, a step that it cannot take in light of
Article 298 and China’s declaration.661

629. At the same time, the Tribunal emphasised that the Philippines’ Submission No. 5 does not
itself call for the Tribunal to decide a dispute concerning sea boundary delimitation: “the
premise of the Philippines’ Submission is not that the Tribunal will delimit any overlapping
entitlements in order to declare that these features form part of the exclusive economic zone and
continental shelf of the Philippines, but rather that no overlapping entitlements can exist.”662 In
other words, nothing in the Convention prevents a Tribunal from recognising the existence of an
exclusive economic zone or continental shelf, or of addressing the legal consequence of such
zones, in an area where the entitlements of the State claiming an exclusive economic zone or
continental shelf are not overlapped by the entitlements of any other State. Doing so does not
implicate the delimitation of maritime boundaries or the exclusion from jurisdiction in Article
298(1)(a)(i). In the absence of any possible overlap, there is quite literally nothing to delimit.
630. The Tribunal went on to note, however, that:
If, however, another maritime feature claimed by China within 200 nautical miles of
Mischief Reef or Second Thomas Shoal were to be an “island” for the purposes of
Article 121, capable of generating an entitlement to an exclusive economic zone and
continental shelf, the resulting overlap and the exclusion of boundary delimitation from the
Tribunal’s jurisdiction by Article 298 would prevent the Tribunal from addressing this
Submission.663

631. The Tribunal has already held (see paragraphs 277 to 278 above) that there is no legal basis for
any Chinese historic rights, or sovereign rights and jurisdiction beyond those provided for in the
Convention, in the waters of the South China Sea encompassed by the ‘nine-dash line’. The
661

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 394.

662

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 402.

663

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 402.

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Tribunal sees no evidence that, prior to the Convention, China ever established a historic right
to the exclusive use of the living and non-living resources of the waters of the South China Sea,
whatever use it may historically have made of the Spratly Islands themselves. In any event, any
such right would have been superseded by the adoption of the Convention and the legal creation
of the exclusive economic zone. The ‘nine-dash line’ thus cannot provide a basis for any
entitlement by China to maritime zones in the area of Mischief Reef or Second Thomas Shoal
that would overlap the entitlement of the Philippines to an exclusive economic zone and
continental shelf generated from baselines on the island of Palawan.
632. The Tribunal has now held (see paragraphs 378 and 381 above) that Mischief Reef and Second
Thomas Shoal are low-tide elevations and, as such, generate no entitlement to maritime zones of
their own. The Tribunal has also now held (see paragraph 626 above) that neither Itu Aba, nor
any other high-tide feature in the Spratly Islands, is a fully entitled island for the purposes of
Article 121 of the Convention. As such, pursuant to the operation of Article 121(3) of the
Convention, these features are legally considered to be “rocks” and to generate no exclusive
economic zone or continental shelf. The Tribunal also notes that there is no maritime feature
that is above water at high tide in its natural condition and that is located within 12 nautical
miles of either Mischief Reef or Second Thomas Shoal.
633. From these conclusions, it follows that there exists no legal basis for any entitlement by China
to maritime zones in the area of Mischief Reef or Second Thomas Shoal. Accordingly, there is
no situation of overlapping entitlements that would call for the application of Articles 15, 74, or
83 to delimit the overlap. Because no delimitation is required—or, indeed, even possible—
there is no possible basis for the application of the exception to jurisdiction in
Article 298(1)(a)(i).
ii.

Third Parties and the Tribunal’s Jurisdiction

634. In its Award on Jurisdiction, the Tribunal considered whether any third parties were
indispensable to the proceedings, recalled those cases in which an international court or tribunal
had declined to proceed due to the absence of an indispensable party, and concluded that “the
absence of other States as parties to the arbitration poses no obstacle.” 664 The Tribunal
reaffirms and incorporates that decision (see paragraph 157 and 168 above). In light, however,
of Malaysia’s Communication to the Tribunal of 23 June 2016, the Tribunal considers it

664

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 188.

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beneficial to elaborate further on the significance of third parties and the basis for its jurisdiction
to reach the conclusions set out in this Award.
635. In its Communication, Malaysia recalls that it claims sovereignty over a number of features in
the South China Sea and “may also have overlapping maritime entitlements (including an
extended continental shelf) in the areas of some of the features that the Arbitral Tribunal has
been asked to classify.”665 Malaysia invokes Monetary Gold Removed from Rome in 1943, as
well as other cases where courts and tribunals have sought to constrain the effects of maritime
boundary delimitation on third parties, and argues that:
The Arbitral Tribunal must ensure that, in determining whether certain maritime features in
the South China Sea are entitled to specific maritime zones under UNCLOS 1982, it does
not express any position that might directly or indirectly affect the rights and interests of
Malaysia. The Arbitral Tribunal thus cannot purport to decide upon the maritime
entitlements pursuant to Articles 13 and 121 of UNCLOS 1982 of any features within the
EEZ and Continental Shelf of Malaysia as published in Malaysia’s Map of 1979. 666

636. The Tribunal observes that Malaysia has had observer status in the proceedings since
25 June 2015 and, accordingly, attended the Hearing on Jurisdiction and the Hearing on the
Merits and received copies of the full submissions in the case. It has, however, brought its
concerns to the Tribunal for the first time in June 2016. Nevertheless, the Tribunal has sought
the Parties’ comments on Malaysia’s Communication and, as set out below, has taken note of
Malaysia’s concerns.
637. The Tribunal notes that Malaysia is not a party to this arbitration and has not applied to
intervene in these proceedings. As Malaysia’s Communication correctly notes, as a non-party
“Malaysia is not bound by the outcome of the arbitral proceedings or any pronouncement on
fact or law to be rendered by the Arbitral Tribunal.” 667 This follows generally from the
principle that the legal effect of a judicial or arbitral decision is limited to the Parties and from
Article 296(2) of the Convention, which expressly provides that “[a]ny such decision shall have
no binding force except between the parties and in respect of that particular dispute.”
638. The Tribunal further notes that the none of the features specifically identified in the Philippines’
Submissions lies within the continental shelf limit claimed by Malaysia in its 1979 Map and that
Malaysia has not asserted the position that any maritime feature in the Spratly Islands
constitutes a fully entitled island for the purposes of Article 121(3) of the Convention. On the
665

Note Verbale from the Federation of Malaysia to the Tribunal, No. PRMC 5/2016 (23 June 2016),
enclosing Communication from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia, p. 6 (23 June 2016)
(hereinafter “Malaysia’s Communication”).

666

Malaysia’s Communication, p. 6.

667

Malaysia’s Communication, p. 8.

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contrary, Malaysia’s joint submission (with Viet Nam) to the CLCS sets out official coordinates
for the outer limit of Malaysia’s 200-nautical-mile continental shelf claim, which is
unequivocally drawn from basepoints adjacent to the coast of Borneo, rather than from any
feature in the Spratly Islands.
639. The Tribunal observes that—insofar as they involve features not claimed by Malaysia in its
1979 Map—none of its determinations with respect to the Philippines’ Submissions No. 4, 6,
or 7 bear on the rights or interests that Malaysia has asserted in its Communication. With
respect to the Philippines’ Submission No. 5, the Tribunal notes that Mischief Reef and Second
Thomas Shoal do lie within 200 nautical miles of features claimed by Malaysia, although
Malaysia itself has not claimed an exclusive economic zone or continental shelf in the area of
either Mischief Reef or Second Thomas Shoal.
640. The Tribunal considers, however, that Malaysia’s Communication overstates the Monetary
Gold principle when it argues expansively that the Tribunal must “avoid deciding any question
that requires it to adopt a view that, directly or indirectly, may affect Malaysia’s rights and
interests.” 668 Read correctly, Monetary Gold calls for a court or tribunal to refrain from
exercising its jurisdiction where the “legal interests [of a third State] would not only be affected
by a decision, but would form the very subject-matter of the decision.”669 The circumstances of
Monetary Gold, however, “represent the limit of the power of the Court to refuse to exercise its
jurisdiction,”670 and any more expansive reading would impermissibly constrain the practical
ability of courts and tribunals to carry out their function. The Tribunal considers that, to the
extent it has examined certain features claimed by China (that are also claimed by Malaysia) for
the purposes of assessing the possible entitlements of China in areas to which Malaysia makes
no claim, the legal interests of Malaysia do not form “the very subject-matter of the dispute”671
and are not implicated by the Tribunal’s conclusions.

668

Malaysia’s Communication, p. 7.

669

Monetary Gold Removed from Rome in 1943 (Preliminary Question), Judgment of 15 June 1954,
ICJ Reports 1954, p. 19 at p. 32.

670

Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. United States of America),
Jurisdiction and Admissibility, Judgment, ICJ Reports 1984, p. 392 at p. 431, para. 88.

671

Monetary Gold Removed from Rome in 1943 (Preliminary Question), Judgment of 15 June 1954,
ICJ Reports 1954, p. 19 at p. 32.

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641. In these circumstances, Malaysia’s rights and interests are protected, to the extent they are
implicated at all, by its status as a non-party to the proceedings and by Article 296(2), and do
not engage the rule in Monetary Gold.672
*
642. For the foregoing reasons, the Tribunal concludes that it has jurisdiction with respect to the
Philippines’ Submission No. 5.
(f)

Conclusion

643. Based on the considerations outlined above (see paragraphs 333 to 334), the Tribunal finds with
respect to the Philippines’ Submission No. 3 that Scarborough Shoal contains, within the
meaning of Article 121(1) of the Convention, naturally formed areas of land, surrounded by
water, which are above water at high tide. However, under Article 121(3) of the Convention,
the high-tide features at Scarborough Shoal are rocks that cannot sustain human habitation or
economic life of their own and accordingly shall have no exclusive economic zone or
continental shelf.
644. Based on the considerations outlined above (see paragraphs 335 to 351), the Tribunal finds with
respect to the Philippines’ Submission No. 7 that Johnson Reef, Cuarteron Reef, and
Fiery Cross Reef contain, within the meaning of Article 121(1) of the Convention, naturally
formed areas of land, surrounded by water, which are above water at high tide. However, for
purposes of Article 121(3) of the Convention, the high-tide features at Johnson Reef, Cuarteron
Reef, and Fiery Cross Reef are rocks that cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of
their own and accordingly shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.
645. Having found—contrary to the Philippines’ Submission No. 6—that Gaven Reef (North) and
McKennan Reef are naturally formed areas of land, surrounded by water, which are above water
at high tide (see paragraphs 354 and 366 above), the Tribunal finds that for purposes of
Article 121(3) of the Convention, the high-tide features at Gaven Reef (North) and McKennan
Reef are rocks that cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own and
accordingly shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.
646. Based on the considerations outlined above (see paragraphs 374 to 381), the Tribunal concludes
that Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal are both low-tide elevations that generate no
672

See Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. United States of
America), Jurisdiction and Admissibility, Judgment, ICJ Reports 1984, p. 392 at p. 431, para. 88.

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maritime zones of their own. The Tribunal also concludes that none of the high-tide features in
the Spratly Islands are capable of sustaining human habitation or an economic life of their own
within the meaning of those terms in Article 121(3) of the Convention. All of the high-tide
features in the Spratly Islands are therefore legally rocks for purposes of Article 121(3) and do
not generate entitlements to an exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.

There is,

accordingly, no possible entitlement by China to any maritime zone in the area of either
Mischief Reef or Second Thomas Shoal and no jurisdictional obstacle to the Tribunal’s
consideration of the Philippines’ Submission No. 5.
647. With respect to the Philippines’ Submission No. 5, the Tribunal concludes that both Mischief
Reef and Second Thomas Shoal are located within 200 nautical miles of the Philippines’ coast
on the island of Palawan and are located in an area that is not overlapped by the entitlements
generated by any maritime feature claimed by China. It follows, therefore, that, as between the
Philippines and China, Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal form part of the exclusive
economic zone and continental shelf of the Philippines.
648. The Tribunal now turns to the consideration of the Philippines’ Submissions No. 8 through 13,
concerning Chinese activities in the South China Sea.

*

*

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VII. CHINESE ACTIVITIES IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA (SUBMISSIONS NO. 8 TO 13)
A.

ALLEGED INTERFERENCE WITH THE PHILIPPINES’ SOVEREIGN RIGHTS IN ITS EEZ AND
CONTINENTAL SHELF (SUBMISSION NO. 8)
1.

Introduction

649. In this Section, the Tribunal addresses the Parties’ dispute concerning the activities of Chinese
officials and Chinese vessels with respect to living and non-living resources in the areas of the
South China Sea located within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.
This dispute is reflected in the Philippines’ Submission No. 8, which requests the Tribunal to
declare that:
(8)

2.

China has unlawfully interfered with the enjoyment and exercise of the sovereign
rights of the Philippines with respect to the living and non-living resources of its
exclusive economic zone and continental shelf;

Factual Background

650. Documents adduced by the Philippines record several incidents since 2010 in which China has
acted to prevent the Philippines from exploiting the non-living and living resources in the
waters that lie within 200 nautical miles of the Philippines’ baselines. The following is an
overview of these incidents.
(a)

Actions regarding Non-Living Resources

651. China has objected to or acted to prevent petroleum exploration by the Philippines in the South
China Sea, within 200 nautical miles of the Philippines’ baselines, on several occasions.
i.

Petroleum Blocks at Reed Bank and the M/V Veritas Voyager Incident

652. In June 2002, the Philippines awarded Sterling Energy Plc (“Sterling Energy”) a licence to
explore oil and gas deposits within the GSEC101 block, located at Reed Bank.673 The location
of the GSEC101 block is depicted in Map 4 on page 269 below.
653. In April 2005, Forum Energy Plc, a UK-based oil and gas exploration and production company
(“Forum Energy”), acquired the concession from Sterling Energy and became its operator.674
On 15 February 2010, the Philippines converted the licence into a Service Contract (“SC72”).675

673

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp. 140-141.

674

Forum Energy plc, “SC72 Recto Bank (Formerly GSEC101)” (Annex 342).

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654. On 22 February 2010, China delivered to the Philippines a Note Verbale, expressing “its strong
objection and indignation” about the award of the Service Contract. China went on to state as
follows:
China has indisputable sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over Nansha Islands
and its adjacent waters. The so-called “GSEC101” is situated in the waters of China’s
Nansha Islands. The aforementioned act of the Philippine side has seriously infringed upon
China’s sovereignty and sovereign rights and goes contrary to its commitments on the
South China Sea issue and to the maintenance of peace and stability in the South China
Sea. It is illegal, null and void.676

655. On 13 May 2010, China reiterated its objections in a further Note Verbale.677
656. On 1 March 2011, M/V Veritas Voyager, a Singaporean flagged seismic survey vessel, was
engaged in conducting surveys for Forum Energy at Reed Bank, within the GSEC101 area,
when it was approached by two China Marine Surveillance (“CMS”) vessels (Zhongguo 71 and
Zhongguo 75). As recorded by the Philippine Navy, the following events were reported by M/V
Veritas Voyager:

O/a 01 0549H March 2011, seven (7) Chinese fishing vessels and two (2) Marine
surveillance vessels entered the survey area. These vessels came closer to the
survey and chase vessels to have a look at the ongoing survey operations then
headed away southward. One of the Veritas Voyager crew who knows how to speak
Mandarin communicated with the marine surveillance vessels and was informed that
they were on a routine surveillance patrol, and asked who they were and what they
were doing.

O/a 01 0509H March 2011, the two (2) marine surveillance vessels followed the
Veritas Voyager for an hour staying in the position at approximately two (2)
Nautical Miles off its starboard beam. The two (2) vessels then increased speed and
headed off southwest. The mandarin speaking crew onboard MV Veritas Voyager
was able to communicate to the surveillance vessel on the details of their towed
spread.

O/a 02 0942H March 2011, the two (2) (Chinese) surveillance vessels approached
MV Veritas Voyager again and informed them that they are operating in the
territorial waters of China under the UN charter. The Party Manager replied that the
Veritas Voyager was operating in the territory of the Philippines with all the
required permits. The Marine surveillance vessels then ordered the Veritas Voyager
to stop the production and leave the area. After consultation with CGGV senior
management, the Party Manager, informed the Chinese Surveillance vessels that
they would stop production and proceed to the recovery area.

O/a 021018H March 2011, MV Veritas Voyager reported that they terminated the
operation as of 0936H due to the two Chinese Surveillance vessels that have been
tracking them and insisting that they should stop the survey. The Mandarin
speaking navigator onboard the Voyager explained what they were working for

675

Forum Energy plc, “SC72 Recto Bank (Formerly GSEC101)” (Annex 342).

676

Note Verbale from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Manila to the Department of
Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, No. (10) PG-047 (22 February 2010) (Annex 195).

677

Note Verbale from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Manila to the Department of
Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, No. (10) PG-137 (13 May 2010) (Annex 196).

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Forum Energy on a permitted survey area. However, the Chinese surveillance
vessels demanded them to stop immediately and leave the area, stating that
according to UN treaty, MV Veritas Voyager is operating in waters belonging to the
People’s Republic of China. Hence the crew of MV Veritas Voyager told them that
they would stop the acquisition. In addition, the Chinese vessels have made
aggressive actions against the MV Veritas Voyager by steering at a direct course
(Head on) and turning away at the last minute. 678

657. On 2 March 2011, the Philippines delivered to China a Note Verbale objecting to the incident in
the following terms:
At 9:36 a.m. today, 2 March 2011, two Chinese surveillance vessels “Zhongguo 71 and 75”
threatened a Philippine-authorized seismic survey vessel operating in Philippine waters
around Reed Bank, and demanded that it stop its activities and immediately leave the area.
The area where the incident took place has the following coordinates:
Corner
1
2
3
4

LAT
l0°40′00″N
l0°40′00″N
l0°20′00″N
l0°20′00″N

LONG
116°30′00″E
116°50′00″E
116°50′00″E
116°30′00″E

The Philippine Government views the aggressive actions of the Chinese vessels as a serious
violation of Philippine sovereignty and maritime jurisdiction.679

658. On 9 March 2011, the Chargé d’Affaires of the Chinese Embassy called on the acting Assistant
Secretary of Asia and Pacific Affairs of the Philippines. As recorded by the Philippines, the
principal points conveyed by China in the conversation were as follows:
1. China has indisputable sovereignty over the waters of Nansha Islands where Reed
Bank is situated
Since ancient times, China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha islands and its
adjacent waters. The GSEC 101 (SC 72) area is situated in the adjacent waters of the
Nansha Islands (Spratlys).
On 2 March, Chinese maritime surveillance vessels were in the area. The vessels dissuaded
the Forum vessel from further work. This was an action that China had to take to safeguard
its sovereignty and sovereign rights as a result of the unilateral action from the Philippine
side.
2. [The Philippines] unilateral action in the area is contrary to its commitment to
China. [The Philippines] has not given an official reply to Chinese representations on
the matter
China has made repeated representations with the Philippines on the GSEC 101 issue since
2002. In 2007, 2009 and February 2010, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Romulo
conveyed to China that [the Philippine]Government will not grant to Forum Energy the
conversion of the GSEC 101 into a service contract. Secretary Romulo said that GSEC 101
will not be an issue in [Philippines]-China relations.

678

Memorandum from Colonel, Philippine Navy, to Flag Officer in Command, Philippine Navy (March
2011) (Annex 69).

679

Note Verbale from the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Philippines to the Embassy of
the People’s Republic of China in Manila, No. 110526 (2 March 2011) (Annex 198).

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However, PH went against its commitment and converted GSEC 101 into a service contract
in February 2010. China made repeated representations for the cancellation of the contract,
but [the Philippines]declined to reply officially to Chinese representations. Forum is now
pursuing activities in the area.
3. In consideration of overall bilateral relations, China has exercised restraint and
sincerity on the issue
Looking at the issue from the context of maintaining the overall good relations between
[the Philippines]and China, and maintaining peace and stability in the area, China has
exercised maximum self-restraint and sincerity on the issue.
Its vessels left the area in order to avoid escalating the issue. This demonstrates China’s
goodwill and sincerity in wanting to maintain good relations with [the Philippines].
4. China is willing to have cooperation with [the Philippines] following the principle of
“setting aside disputes and pursuing joint development”
China expressed willingness to have cooperation in the area by following the principle of
“shelving disputes and pursuing joint development” as a prerequisite for cooperation.
5. Is it [the Philippines’] intention to escalate tensions by undertaking high profile
unilateral actions?
Since February 2010, [the Philippines] has not replied officially to Chinese representations
on the matter but proceeded to undertake unilateral action by sending the seismic survey
ship to conduct activities. It even sent military and coast guard vessels to the area. China is
perplexed and disappointed with Philippine actions. Does the Philippines want to escalate
the issue?
6. [The Philippines] is not handling the issue in a low profile manner. To avoid
creating bigger pressures on the options of both governments, [the Philippines] should
properly guide media reporting on the 2 March 2011 incident in a positive way
Contrary to [Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs] commitment to handle the GSEC
101 issue in a low profile manner, Wescom Commander General Sabban gave
strongly-worded statements to the media. An unidentified [Philippine Department of
Foreign Affairs] official also divulged the CDA’s meeting with Undersecretary Basilio to
the media. These reports have hugged headlines and aroused the attention of both peoples.
Such action is not conducive to the resolution of the issue in a low profile manner and has
created bigger pressures from the media on the solutions of both Governments to the
problem. It has created unnecessary impediments for both sides to find a way out of the
issue. If not handled well, the issue will further escalate and may bring unpleasant results
for both sides, which is dangerous.
China requests that [the Philippines]actively guide media reporting in a positive way so that
the issue will not be played up.
7. The [South China Sea] issue is the only outstanding issue in [Philippines]China
relations. Both countries should look at the issue from a higher and broader Vantage
point
The [South China Sea] issue is the only outstanding issue between [the Philippines] and
China. It is a difficult issue that could undermine bilateral relations. In handling the issue,

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both countries should proceed from the overall pursuit of maintaining close and cooperative
relations, and maintaining peace and stability in the area.680

659. From 22 to 24 March 2011, the Secretary-General of the Philippines’ Commission on Maritime
and Ocean Affairs Secretariat, visited Beijing for consultations with the Director-General of the
Ocean and Boundary Affairs Department of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As
recorded by the Philippines, the following views were expressed concerning the Reed Bank
incident:
2. On the Reed Bank/GSEC 101 Issue
China stated that it has sovereignty over the so-called “Nansha Islands.” According to
them, “Nansha” is a “comprehensive whole” that includes the Reed Bank. China is
concerned with the survey and exploration that are reportedly being undertaken by [the
Philippines] in the GSEC 101 area. China cannot and will never accept this. China has
always approached the issue from a broader perspective and adopted an attitude of restraint.
This however should not be misinterpreted by other countries as a reason to undertake
unilateral action on the area. If this happens, China will have reason to do exploration as
well on areas it deems as its own. Joint development is the best and most practical way to
approach the issue pending the resolution of the disputes. China is open to any [Philippine]
proposal on this matter.
[The Philippines] expressed the view that while its relations with China is an important
component of [Philippine] foreign policy, the same should be founded on mutual respect
for each other’s sovereignty and dignity. In this context, [the Philippines] stated the
following points:

[The Philippines] exercises sovereignty and jurisdiction over the Kalayaan Island
Group (KIG).

Even while [the Philippines] exercises sovereignty and jurisdiction over the KIG,
nonetheless; the Reed Bank—where GSEC 101/SC 72 is situated—is not part of the
“adjacent waters” of the Spratlys (Nansha) islands, using UNCLOS as a standard.

Reed bank is neither an island nor a rock nor a low tide elevation. It is completely
submerged under water and a continental shelf by definition. Indeed, it is part of the
continental shelf of Palawan.

[The Philippines], in the context of friendly relations with China, is open to Chinese
investment in the Reed Bank under [Philippine] laws.

However, with respect to the disputed features (e.g., islands, islets) in the Spratlys,
[the Philippines] is open to exploring possible modalities or mechanisms for
managing disputes in the said area including ideas on joint cooperation.681

660. On 4 April 2011, the Philippines responded formally to China’s Notes Verbales of February and
May 2010, stating as follows:

680

Memorandum from the Acting Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Affairs, Department of Foreign
Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs (10 March 2011) (Annex 70)
(emphasis removed from original).

681

Memorandum from the Secretary General, Commission on Maritime and Ocean Affairs Secretariat,
Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the
Republic of the Philippines (28 March 2011) (Annex 71) (emphasis removed from original).

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FIRST, the Republic of the Philippines has sovereignty and jurisdiction over the Kalayaan
Island Group (KIG);
SECOND, even while the Republic of the Philippines has sovereignty and jurisdiction over
the KIG, the Reed Bank where GSEC 101 is situated does not form part of the “adjacent
waters,” specifically the 12 M territorial waters of any relevant geological feature in the
KIG either under customary international law or the United Nations Convention on the Law
of the Sea (UNCLOS);
THIRD, Reed Bank is not an island, a rock, or a low tide elevation. Rather, Reed Bank is a
completely submerged bank that is part of the continental margin of Palawan. Accordingly,
Reed Bank, which is about 85 M from the nearest coast of Palawan and about 595 M from
the coast of Hainan, forms part of the 200 M continental shelf of the Philippine archipelago
under UNCLOS;
FOURTH, Articles 56 and 77 of UNCLOS provides that the coastal or archipelagic State
exercises sovereign rights over its 200 M Exclusive Economic Zone and 200 M Continental
Shelf. As such, the Philippines exercises exclusive sovereign rights over the Reed Bank.
Therefore, the action of the Philippine Department of Energy is fully consistent with
international law. It does not impinge on the sovereignty of the People’s Republic of
China, or violate the ASEAN-China Declaration of Conduct on the South China Sea
(DOC). . . .682

ii.

The West Calamian Petroleum Block

661. On 12 January 2006, the Philippine Department of Energy issued Service Contract 58 to PNOC
Exploration Corporation (“PNOC”) in respect of the West Calamian block adjacent to
Palawan.683 The location of SC58 is depicted in Map 4 on page 269 below. PNOC was joined
by Nido Petroleum Ltd. (“Nido”) as operator of the block.684
662. On 24 March 2010, Nido announced that it would commence multi beam and sea bed coring in
SC58.685
663. On 30 July 2010, the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Chinese Embassy called on the
Secretary-General of the Philippines’ Commission on Maritime and Ocean Affairs Secretariat.
As recorded by the Philippines, China made the following representations:

682

Note Verbale from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, to the Embassy of the
People’s Republic of China in Manila, No. 110885 (4 April 2011) (Annex 199).

683

Department of Energy of the Republic of the Philippines and PNOC Exploration Corporation, West
Calamian Block Service Contract No. 58 (12 January 2006) (Annex 335).

684

See PNOC Exploration Corporation available at <pnoc-ec.com.ph/service-contract-no-58-westcalamian/>.

685

Letter from Country Representative, Nido Petroleum, to the Office of the Undersecretary, Department of
Energy of the Republic of Philippines (7 October 2013) (Annex 340).

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Nido Petroleum Ltd. and Service Contract 54
o

Chinese authorities have received reports that Australian company Nido Petroleum
Ltd. is planning to sell crude oil that it extracted from the Tindalo oil well, which is
covered by Service Contract 54a. It plans to start selling the oil this August 2010.

o

Mr. Bai Tian [the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Chinese Embassy] further asserted
that Service Contract 54, 14, 58, 63, and other nearby service contracts are located
“deep within China’s 9-dash line.” China considers the Philippines as violating and
encroaching on China’s sovereignty and sovereign rights in these areas.

o

China is requesting for detailed information on these service contracts.

o

China considers this as a very serious matter and that it reserves the right to
unilaterally act on this matter to protect their interests.

o

China will send the Philippines a Note Verbale on this issue.686

664. On 6 August 2010, the First Secretary of the Chinese Embassy, Mr. Yongsheng Li, met with
Nido’s Vice-President, Mr. Leonardo M. Ote. As later memorialised by Nido:
During the meeting, Mr. Yongsheng showed Mr. Ote a copy of China’s 9-dash-line map
and informed the latter that all areas within that map are being claimed by PRC, including
those areas covered by Nido’s existing service contracts with the Philippine Government.
Mr. Ote informed Mr. Yongsheng that Nido is a service contractor which derives its
licenses and permits from the [Philippine Department of Energy]. Mr. Ote suggested that
Mr. Yongsheng discuss any claims with the [Philippine Department of Energy]. Nido has
not heard from Mr. Yongsheng since then. 687

665. In September 2011, according to Nido, COSL, a Chinese service contractor, wrote to Nido’s
Operations Manager for SC 54 “signifying its refusal to conduct any seismic activity in SC54
and SC58 due to PRC’s territorial claims in the said areas.”688
iii.

The North-West Palawan Petroleum Blocks

666. On 30 June 2011, the Philippine Department of Energy launched the Fourth Philippine Energy
Contracting Round (PECR 4) and offered 15 petroleum blocks for exploration and development
by companies, including two blocks in the South China Sea to the north-west of Palawan
(“Area 3” and “Area 4”), immediately to seaward of SC58.689 The locations of Area 3 and
Area 4 are depicted in Map 4 on page 269 below.

686

Memorandum from the Undersecretary for Special and Ocean Concerns, Department of Foreign Affairs,
Republic of the Philippines, to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Philippines (30 July
2010) (Annex 63).

687

Letter from Country Representative, Nido Petroleum, to the Office of the Undersecretary, Department of
Energy of the Republic of Philippines (7 October 2013) (Annex 340).

688

Letter from Country Representative, Nido Petroleum, to the Office of the Undersecretary, Department of
Energy of the Republic of Philippines (7 October 2013) (Annex 340).

689

Deloitte LLP, “Fourth Philippine Energy Contracting Round (PECR 4) 2011” (2011) (Annex 336).

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667. On 6 July 2011, China delivered to the Philippines a Note Verbale, objecting to the tender in the
following terms:
On 30 June 2011, at the launching of Fourth Philippine Energy Contracting Round
(PECR4), the Department of Energy of the Philippines offered 15 petroleum blocks to local
and international companies for exploration and development. Among the aforesaid
blocks, AREA 3 and AREA 4 are situated in the waters of which China has historic titles
including sovereign rights and jurisdiction.
China has indisputable sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction over the islands in
South China Sea including Nansha Islands and its adjacent waters. The action of the
Philippine Government has seriously infringed on China’s sovereignty and sovereign
rights, violated the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC),
cannot but complicate the disputes and affect stability in the South China Sea.
The Chinese side urges the Philippine side to immediately withdraw the bidding offer for
AREA 3 and AREA 4, refrain from any action that infringes on China’s sovereignty and
sovereign rights and violates the DOC, and honor its commitment to peace and stability in
this region.690

(b)

Alleged Interference with Living Resources

668. China has also acted to assert its jurisdiction over fisheries in the South China Sea and to restrict
fishing by Philippine nationals in areas within 200 nautical miles of the Philippines’ baselines.
i.

China’s Prevention of Fishing by Philippine Vessels at Mischief Reef

669. Beginning in 1995, China undertook the construction of certain elevated structures on the reef
platform at Mischief Reef. According to the Philippines, “[i]n relation to Mischief Reef, China
has acted to prevent Filipino fishermen from fishing there ever since it took physical control of
the reef in 1995.”691
670. In August 1995, representatives of the Philippines and China held “Bilateral Consultations on
the South China Sea Issue,” addressing among other issues Mischief Reef. The Agreed Minutes
of those consultations record the Philippine representatives’ declaration that “previous to the
Chinese occupation of Mischief Reef, Filipino fishermen had been freely using the Mischief
Reef as shelter.”692

690

Note Verbale from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Manila to the Department of
Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, No. (11) PG-202 (6 July 2011) (Annex 202).

691

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 156.

692

Government of the Republic of the Philippines and Government of the People’s Republic of China,
Agreed Minutes on the First Philippines-China Bilateral Consultations on the South China Sea Issue
(10 August 1995) (Annex 180).

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116°E

118°E

Legend
Coral Reef (shallow/uncovering)

lm
ile
s

Area 3

SC58

Area 4

Ph
ili
p

pi
n

s

12°N

e

North Danger
Reef

Thitu
Reefs

12°N

20

0n
au
tica

Coral Reef (submerged)

Reed
Bank

GSEC101

West
York I.

Thitu I.
Loaita
Bank

Flat I.
Nanshan I.

Lankiam
Cay

Loaita I.

Sand Cay

Namyit I.

Union
Bank

Hughes
Reef

10°N

10°N

Tizard
Bank
Mischief
Reef

McKennan
Reef

Second
Thomas
Shoal

THE
PHILIPPINES
an

w
la

8°N

8°N

Pa

116°E

118°E

PHILIPPINE PETROLEUM BLOCKS
IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA
Nautical Miles
50

25

0

50

100

Kilometers

Map 4

Projection / Datum:
Mercator / WGS84

Coral Reef data from ‘Global Distribution of Coral Reefs’
UNEP-WCMC, WorldFish Centre, WRI
and TNC (The Nature Conservancy) (2010).
http://datadownload.unep-wcmc.org/requests/new?dataset=WCMC008_CoralReef2010_v1_3

50
25
0
50
100
Nominal Scale at Latitude 10°N - 1:4,272,000

This map is for illustrative purposes only.

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ii.

China’s Extension of Jurisdiction over Fisheries in the South China Sea

671. As noted in connection with the Tribunal’s consideration of China’s claim to historic rights, on
10 May 2012, the Fishery Bureau of Nanhai District under the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture
announced a fishing moratorium in the South China Sea. The announcement provided, in
relevant part, as follows:
1.

All productive activity types, except for using single-layer gill net and line-fishing
equipment, shall be prohibited from 16 May 12:00 p.m. until 1 August 12:00 p.m. in
the South China Sea areas from 12° north latitude up to the “Common Boundary
Line of Fujian-Guangdong Sea Areas” (including the Gulf of Tonkin) under the
jurisdiction of the People’s Republic of China.

2.

During the fishing moratorium, all fishing boats subject to the prohibition shall be
moored at harbor with their nets folded without exception. No unit may supply oil
or ice to, or purchase, distribute, freeze or store fish from the fishing boats subject to
the fishing moratorium.

3.

During the fishing moratorium, any fishing boat that holds Nansha Special Fishing
Permits and goes to conduct fishing production in the sea areas of Nansha Islands
south of 12º north latitude must strictly follow the reporting system in its entry and
exit of sea ports, and any production activities in the sea area prohibited under the
fishing moratorium.

4.

Those who violate the fishing moratorium regulations by carrying out fishing
activities shall have their fishing catch and any illegal gains derived therefrom
confiscated and a fine of up to 50,000 yuan shall be imposed; if the circumstances
are serious, their fishing equipment shall be confiscated and their fishing permit
shall be revoked; if the circumstances are especially serious their fishing boat may
be confiscated; if it constitutes a crime, their criminal responsibility shall be
investigated according to law.693

672. The fishing ban was also announced by Xinhua, the official press agency of China, which stated
that the ban applied “in most parts of the South China Sea as part of ongoing efforts to
rehabilitate the area’s marine resources . . . including Huangyan Island [Scarborough Shoal] but
excluding most of the Nansha Islands.” 694 The Xinhua announcement further reported that
“[t]he fishing ban is also applicable to foreign ships. A spokesman from the fishery bureau
under the [Ministry of Agriculture] said earlier this week that fishing activity conducted by
foreign ships in banned areas will be seen as a ‘blatant encroachment on China’s fishery
resources.’”695

693

People’s Republic of China, Ministry of Agriculture, South China Sea Fishery Bureau, Announcement on
the 2012 Summer Ban on Marine Fishing in the South China Sea Maritime Space (10 May 2012)
(Annex 118).

694

“Fishing ban starts in South China Sea,” Xinhua (17 May 2012) (Annex 318).

695

“Fishing ban starts in South China Sea,” Xinhua (17 May 2012) (Annex 318).

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673. On 14 May 2012, the Philippines issued the following statement: “Our position is we do not
recognize China’s fishing ban in as much as portions of the ban encompass our Exclusive
Economic Zone (EEZ).”696
674. On 27 November 2012, the Standing Committee of Hainan Provincial People’s Congress
revised “The Hainan Provincial Regulation on the Control of Coastal Border Security” (“the
Hainan Regulation”).697 As an administrative matter, China considers the Spratly and Paracel
Islands, as well as Scarborough Shoal to form part of Hainan Province, since 2012 as part of the
city of Sansha.698 As revised, the Hainan Regulation provides as follows:
Article 2 The Regulation is applicable to the border security control in the sea areas and
coastal areas within the jurisdiction of the Hainan Province. If any matter is otherwise
regulated by other laws or administrative regulations, such laws or administrative
regulations shall apply to the matter.
...
Article 31 When entering the sea areas within the jurisdiction of the Hainan Province, all
foreign ships and the people on the foreign ships shall obey the laws and regulations of the
People’s Republic of China, and shall not have the following actions that breach the control
of coastal border security:
(1)

Illegally stop or anchor when passing the sea areas under the jurisdiction of the
Hainan Province, or take provocative acts;

(2)

Enter or exit the border without inspection and approval, or change the entry or exit
ports without approval;

(3)

Illegally board any of the islands and reefs within the jurisdiction of the Hainan
Province;

(4)

Damage marine defense facilities or production and living facilities on the islands
and reefs within the jurisdiction of the Hainan Province;

(5)

Engage in propaganda activities that violate national sovereignty or endanger
national security; or

(6)

Conduct any other actions that breach the control of coastal border security as
specified by other laws or regulations.

...
Article 47 If a foreign ship and the people on the foreign ship have one of the following
circumstances as specified in Article 31, the authorities of the public security border can
legally take such measures as boarding the ship, conducting inspection, detention,
696

Philippine Statement on the Inclusion of Bajo de Masinloc and the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone
in China’s Fishing Ban (14 May 2012), available at <www.gov.ph/2012/05/14/philippine-statement-onthe-inclusion-of-bajo-de-masinloc-and-the-philippine-exclusive-economic-zone-in-chinas-fishing-banmay-14-2012/>.

697

People’s Republic of China, Hainan Province, Hainan Provincial Regulation on the Control of Coastal
Border Security (31 December 2012) (Annex 123).

698

“China establishes Sansha City,” Xinhua, 24 July 2012, available at <en.hainan.gov.cn/englishgov/News/
201208/t20120801_734629.html>.

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deportation, or ordering to stop sailing, change the route or return the voyage. The
involved ship or the auxiliary navigation equipment in the ship may be seized. Prosecution
shall be conducted in accordance with relevant laws and regulations such as the Law of the
People’s Republic of China on the Penalties for Public Security Administration and the
Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Control of Exit and Entry of the Border.699

675. In November 2012, the Philippines delivered a Note Verbale to the Chinese Embassy in Manila,
seeking clarification of the content the Hainan Regulation:
The Philippines seeks clarification on the reported law and that foreign vessels illegally
entering the waters under the jurisdiction of Hainan Province can be boarded, inspected,
detained, confiscated, immobilized, and expelled, among other punitive actions.700

676. On 31 December 2012, an official spokesperson of China’s Foreign Ministry stated that the
Regulation would only be enforced within 12 nautical miles of Hainan’s coast.701
677. In January 2013, the Philippines reiterated its request for clarification:
The Philippines seeks clarification anew on the scope of Hainan’s rules that there is no
change from regulations passed in 1999 limiting enforcement to within 12 nautical miles of
Hainan’s coast, based on the recent pronouncements of Chinese Foreign Ministry
Spokesperson Hua Chunying.
The Philippines further seeks confirmation that the 12 nautical miles enforcement law is
absolutely limited to the island of Hainan only.702

678. According to the Philippines, China has never formally clarified the intended scope of
application of the Hainan Regulation.703
iii.

China’s Prevention of Fishing by Philippine vessels at Second Thomas Shoal

679. According to the Philippines, “after China took de facto control of Second Thomas Shoal in
May 2013, it began interfering with Philippine fishing activities in the area.”704
680. According to the Director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources of the Philippines,
the conduct of and laws enacted by the Chinese Government “have created a deep sense of fear

699

People’s Republic of China, Hainan Province, Hainan Provincial Regulation on the Control of Coastal
Border Security (31 December 2012) (Annex 123).

700

Note Verbale from the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Philippines to the Embassy of
the People’s Republic of China in Manila, No. 12-3391 (30 November 2012) (Annex 215).

701

“China says ‘board and search’ sea rules limited to Hainan coast,” Reuters (31 December 2012) available
at <in.reuters.com/article/china-seas-idINL4N0A51QH20121231>.

702

Note Verbale from the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Philippines to the Embassy of
the People’s Republic of China in Manila, No. 13-0011 (2 January 2013) (Annex 216).

703

Memorial, para. 6.34.

704

Memorial, para. 6.36.

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among Filipino fishermen that has significantly curtailed their fishing activities and severely
impacted their ability to earn a livelihood.”705
3.

The Philippines’ Position
(a)

Jurisdiction

681. According to the Philippines, “the only limitation on the Philippines’ entitlement to an EEZ and
continental shelf is to the extent that any nearby maritime features claimed by China might
generate overlapping entitlements.” 706 The Philippines submits that there are no maritime
features in the South China Sea claimed by China that can generate entitlements to an exclusive
economic zone in the areas relevant to its Submission No. 8.707 For the Philippines, “all of the
incidents . . . fall within areas that are indisputably Philippines’ EEZ and continental shelf,”708
and no issue of maritime delimitation is implicated.
682. The Philippines likewise submits that Article 297(3) of the Convention poses no bar to its
claims because that Article (concerning jurisdiction over the living resources of the exclusive
economic zone) does not restrict compulsory dispute settlement over disputes relating to the
exclusive economic zone of the State making the claim.

According to the Philippines,

“Article 297(3)(a) does not impair the Tribunal’s jurisdiction over this Submission in the first
instance because China is not ‘the coastal State’ in those areas.”709 The Philippines also argues
that Article 297(3) poses no bar to its claims regarding petroleum activities because “[b]y its
terms, the exception applies only to disputes relating to a coastal State’s sovereign rights with
respect to ‘the living resources’ in the EEZ. Non-living resources are not covered.” 710 Finally,
the Philippines submits that the Tribunal’s jurisdiction is not barred by the exception in
Article 298(1)(b) for law enforcement activities for the same reason that the exception for living
resources is not applicable: “In those areas, the Philippines—not China—enjoys the sovereign
rights that UNCLOS accords. Submission No. 8 therefore does not implicate China’s exercise

705

Affidavit of A.G. Perez, Director, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Republic of the Philippines
(26 March 2014) (Annex 241).

706

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 133.

707

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp. 96, 130-131.

708

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 162.

709

Supplemental Written Submission, para. 5.4.

710

Supplemental Written Submission, para. 5.6.

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of its sovereign rights as ‘the coastal State’, as Articles 297(3)(a) and 298(1)(b) would
require.”711
(b)

The Philippines’ Rights in the Exclusive Economic Zone

683. The Philippines submits that “the waters, seabed and subsoil of the South China Sea within
200 M of the Philippine coast, but beyond 12 M from any high-tide feature within the South
China Sea, constitute the EEZ and continental shelf of the Philippines” under Articles 57 and 76
of the Convention because none of the maritime features claimed by China “generates
entitlement to an EEZ or continental shelf.”712
684. According to the Philippines, “[b]ecause the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of the coastal
State in both the continental shelf and EEZ are exclusive, no other State may interfere with their
use or enjoyment.” 713 The Philippines submits that “China’s interference with oil and gas
exploration and exploitation, and the measures adopted to prevent fishing in the Philippines’
EEZ and continental shelf, constitute . . . continuing violations of . . . Articles 56, 58, 61, 62, 73,
77 and 81” of the Convention.714
i.

Interference with Rights to Non-Living Resources

685. The Philippines argues that China’s assertiveness in “its claim to ‘historic rights’ over all the
waters, seabed, and subsoil within the so-called ‘nine-dash line’” has interfered with the
Philippines’ enjoyment and exercise of its sovereign rights and jurisdiction under the
Convention. 715

The Philippines submits that the following actions by China constitute

violations of the Philippines’ sovereign rights and jurisdiction:
(a)

China’s objection to the conversion of the Philippines’ contract with Sterling Energy for
exploration of oil and gas deposits within the GSEC101 block into a service contract (see
paragraphs 652 to 655 above);716

(b)

The “aggressive manoeuvres” by two CMS vessels towards the MV Veritas Voyager on
2 March 2011 (see paragraphs 656 to 659 above);

711

Supplemental Written Submission, para. 9.11.

712

Memorial, para. 6.6; Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp. 132-134.

713

Memorial, para. 6.14.

714

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 161.

715

Memorial, para. 6.15.

716

See Memorial, paras. 6.17-6.19; Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp. 140-142.

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(c)

China’s objection to Service Contract 58 in respect of the West Calamian petroleum
block and its efforts to dissuade Nido from working in the area (see paragraph 661 to 665
above);

(d)

China’s objection to the 2011 tender for the Area 3 and 4 petroleum blocks, north-west of
Palawan (see paragraphs 666-667).

ii.

Interference with Rights to Living Resources

686. The Philippines further argues that China has interfered with the Philippines’ sovereign rights
and jurisdiction to exploit the living resources of its maritime zones by enacting and enforcing
“laws and regulations that purport to extend China’s law enforcement jurisdiction, including
over fishing resources, throughout the entire area encompassed by the nine-dash line.” 717
According to the Philippines, this has created “a cloud of uncertainty which has had a
substantial chilling effect on the activities of Philippine fishermen” as well as “an environment
of insecurity . . . among all coastal States in the South China Sea.”718 The Philippines objects
specifically to:
(a)

China’s prevention of fishing by Philippine vessels at Mischief Reef since 1995 (see
paragraphs 669 to 670 above);

(b)

The 2012 moratorium on fishing in the South China Sea north of 12°N latitude (see
paragraphs 671 to 673 above);

(c)

China’s revision of the Hainan Regulation (see paragraphs 674 to 678 above);

(d)

China’s prevention of fishing by Philippine vessels at Second Thomas Shoal since 1995
(see paragraphs 679 to 680 above).

4.

China’s Position

687. China has not directly stated its position with respect to the allegations presented in the
Philippines’ Submission No. 8. Nevertheless, China’s position can be discerned from its public
statements at the time of the incidents in question.

717

Memorial, para. 6.29; Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp. 150, 155-156.

718

Memorial, paras. 6.29, 6.35; Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp. 154, 156, 158.

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688. With respect to the Philippines’ petroleum exploration, it is apparent that China considers that
it—and not the Philippines—has rights in the areas in question:
(a)

Regarding the GSEC101 contract at Reed Bank, China stated that “China has indisputable
sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over Nansha Islands and its adjacent waters.
The so-called ‘GSEC101’ is situated in the waters of China’s Nansha Islands.”719

(b)

Regarding the SC58 contract, China is recorded as having stated that “Service Contract
54, 14, 58, 63, and other nearby service contracts are located ‘deep within China’s 9-dash
line.’ China considers the Philippines as violating and encroaching on China’s
sovereignty and sovereign rights in these areas.”720

(c)

And, regarding the Area 3 and Area 4 tender, China stated that “AREA 3 and AREA 4
are situated in the waters of which China has historic titles including sovereign rights and
jurisdiction.”721

689. China’s statements with respect to fisheries likewise make clear that China considers that it has
sovereign rights in the areas in question. Thus, China’s Ministry of Agriculture is reported to
have stated that fishing by foreign vessels in the South China Sea north of 12° N latitude
constitutes “blatant encroachment on China’s fishery resources.”722
5.

The Tribunal’s Considerations
(a)

The Tribunal’s Jurisdiction

690. In its Award on Jurisdiction, the Tribunal held that Submission No. 8 reflects a dispute
concerning “China’s actions that allegedly interfere with the Philippines’ petroleum exploration,
seismic surveys, and fishing in what the Philippines claims as its exclusive economic zone.” 723
The Tribunal noted that this is not a dispute concerning sovereignty, nor is it barred from the
Tribunal’s consideration by any requirement of Section 1 of Part XV.724
719

Note Verbale from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Manila to the Department of
Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, No. (10) PG-047 (22 February 2010) (Annex 195).

720

Memorandum from the Undersecretary for Special and Ocean Concerns, Department of Foreign Affairs,
Republic of the Philippines, to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Philippines (30 July
2010) (Annex 63).

721

Note Verbale from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Manila to the Department of
Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, No. (11) PG-202 (6 July 2011) (Annex 202).

722

“Fishing ban starts in South China Sea,” Xinhua (17 May 2012) (Annex 318).

723

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 405.

724

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 405.

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691. The Tribunal also found that the dispute at issue in Submission No. 8 does not concern the
delimitation of maritime boundaries. As with Submission No. 5, the Tribunal noted that the
premise of Submission No. 8 is “that no overlapping entitlements exist because only the
Philippines possesses an entitlement to an exclusive economic zone in the relevant areas.” 725
The Tribunal is not asked to delimit overlapping entitlements in the areas in question. Rather,
its jurisdiction is contingent on the absence of any possible overlap. Had the Tribunal found
that another maritime feature claimed by China within 200 nautical miles of the relevant areas
were a fully entitled island for purposes of Article 121 of the Convention and capable of
generating an entitlement to an exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, it would
necessarily have had to decline jurisdiction over the dispute.
692. The Tribunal has found, however, (see paragraphs 230 to 278 above) that there is no legal basis
for any Chinese historic rights, or other sovereign rights and jurisdiction beyond those provided
for in the Convention, in the waters of the South China Sea encompassed by the ‘nine-dash line’
and that none of the high-tide feature in the Spratly Islands is a fully entitled island for the
purposes of Article 121 of the Convention (see paragraphs 473 to 626 above). There is thus no
maritime feature in the Spratly Islands that is capable of generating an entitlement to an
exclusive economic zone or continental shelf in the areas of Mischief Reef or Second Thomas
Shoal, or in the areas of the GSEC101 block, Area 3, Area 4, or the SC58 block.
693. The Tribunal has also found (see paragraphs 374 to 381 above) that Mischief Reef and Second
Thomas Shoal are low-tide elevations and, as such, generate no entitlement to maritime zones of
their own. Additionally, Reed Bank (the area of the GSEC101 block) is an entirely submerged
reef formation that cannot give rise to maritime entitlements. 726 Nor is there any high-tide
feature claimed by China within 12 nautical miles of Area 3, Area 4, or the SC58 block that
could generate an entitlement to a territorial sea in those areas.
694. From these conclusions, it follows that there exists no legal basis for any entitlement by China
to maritime zones in the area of Mischief Reef, Second Thomas Shoal, the GSEC101 block,
Area 3, Area 4, or the SC58 block. There is thus no situation of overlapping entitlements that
would call for the application of Articles 15, 74, or 83 to delimit the overlap and no possible
basis for the application of the exception to jurisdiction in Article 298(1)(a)(i).

725

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 405.

726

See, e.g., Chinese Chart 10019 (Annex NC3), Chinese Chart 18050 (Annex NC21); Navigation Guarantee
Department of the Chinese Navy Headquarters, China Sailing Directions: South China Sea (A103)
(2011) (Annex 232(bis)); United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, Admiralty Sailing Directions: China Sea
Pilot (NP31), Vol. 2 (10th ed., 2012) (Annex 235).

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695. Because the areas of the South China Sea at issue for Submission No. 8 can only constitute the
exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, the Tribunal also considers that Article 297(3)(a)
and the law enforcement exception in Article 298(1)(b) of the Convention pose no obstacle to
its jurisdiction. These provisions serve to limit compulsory dispute settlement where a claim is
brought against a State’s exercise of its sovereign rights in respect of living resources in its own
exclusive economic zone. These provisions do not apply where a State is alleged to have
violated the Convention in respect of the exclusive economic zone of another State. The
Tribunal therefore concludes that it has jurisdiction with respect to the Philippines’
Submission No. 8.
(b)

China’s Actions and the Philippines’ Sovereign Rights

696. In the Tribunal’s view, the core of the Parties’ dispute with respect to living and non-living
resources lies in their differing understandings of their respective rights in the areas of the South
China Sea within 200 nautical miles of the Philippines’ baselines that are encompassed by the
‘nine-dash line’. It is apparent that the Philippines and China have each proceeded on the basis
that it, and not the other, has exclusive rights to resources and have acted accordingly.
697. As discussed above, the effect of China’s objection to compulsory dispute settlement for
maritime delimitation is that the Tribunal could only address this Submission if the respective
maritime entitlements of the Parties could be established and if no overlap requiring
delimitation were found to exist. Jurisdiction has been established only because the allocation
of rights under the Convention is unequivocal. Thus, the Tribunal has found that Mischief Reef,
Second Thomas Shoal, the GSEC101 block, Area 3, Area 4, or the SC58 block all fall within
areas where only the Philippines possesses possible entitlements to maritime zones under the
Convention.

The relevant areas can only constitute the exclusive economic zone and

continental shelf of the Philippines. Accordingly, the Philippines—and not China—possesses
sovereign rights with respect to resources in these areas.
698. The Convention is clear on the allocation of rights within the exclusive economic zone and
continental shelf. With respect to non-living resources, Article 77 of the Convention provides
that the “coastal State”—which in this case is necessarily the Philippines—“exercises over the
continental shelf sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring it and exploiting its natural
resources.” The Convention goes on to make clear that “[t]he rights referred to . . . are
exclusive in the sense that if the coastal State does not explore the continental shelf or exploit its
natural resources, no one may undertake these activities without the express consent of the
coastal State.” These provisions are unequivocal and require no further interpretation. Within

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its continental shelf, only the Philippines, or another State acting with its permission, may
exploit the resources of the sea-bed.
699. The rights of other States in the waters above the continental shelf and with respect to
submarine cables and pipelines are expressly detailed in Articles 78 and 79 of the Convention.
Nothing in these Articles permits any State to prevent another State from exercising sovereign
rights over its own continental shelf.
700. The same clarity is evident with respect to living resources and the provisions of the exclusive
economic zone. Article 56 is clear in allocating to the coastal State—which again is necessarily
the Philippines in the areas in question—“sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and
exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the
waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil, and with regard to other
activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone . . . .” The rights of other
States in the exclusive economic zone are detailed in Article 58 and are limited to “navigation
and overflight and of the laying of submarine cables and pipelines, and other internationally
lawful uses of the sea related to these freedoms.” The rights of other States do not include
restricting a coastal State from exploiting the living resources of its own exclusive economic
zone. Indeed, the very notion is incompatible with the concept of sovereign rights and the
exclusive jurisdiction over fisheries that was the central objective motivating the introduction of
the exclusive economic zone concept (see paragraphs 248 to 254 above).
701. Having established the applicable law and the allocation of rights, the Tribunal now turns to the
events underpinning the Philippines’ claim.
i.

Acts in relation to Non-Living Resources

702. In the case of non-living resources, the Philippines has identified three distinct types of conduct
on the part of China that it considers to violate its sovereign rights to the continental shelf:
(a) diplomatic statements, in the form of China’s objections to the Philippines Government
regarding the conversion of the GSEC101 contract, the SC58 contract, and the tender for Area 3
and Area 4; (b) a statement by a Chinese official to a representative of Nido Petroleum Ltd. to
the effect that the area of Nido Petroleum’s concession from the Philippines was claimed by
China; and (c) actions by CMS vessels to order the M/V Veritas Voyager to halt operations and
leave the area of Reed Bank.
703. The Tribunal notes that China’s diplomatic communications, the statements of its diplomats,
and the actions of government-operated ships, such as CMS vessels, are all attributable to China
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as such. These actions constitute official acts of China. At the same time, however, the
Tribunal reaches different conclusions with respect to the consequences of these actions.
704. As an initial matter, the Tribunal accepts that China has asserted its claim to rights in the waters
within 200 nautical miles of the Philippines baselines in good faith. That the Tribunal disagrees
with China’s understanding of its rights and considers that there is no possible legal basis for
China’s claimed rights does not mean that China’s understanding has not been genuinely held.
705. Correspondingly, the Tribunal does not consider that China’s diplomatic communications,
asserting China’s understanding of its rights in the South China Sea pursuant to the Convention
and international law, can themselves constitute breaches of the provisions of the Convention
regarding the continental shelf. It is an altogether normal occurrence that States will have
different understandings of their respective rights. If the expression of such differences were
itself sufficient to place the State whose understanding of the law ultimately proved incorrect in
breach of the underlying obligation, it would cast an unacceptable chill on the ordinary conduct
of diplomacy. The Tribunal does not exclude that it could reach a different conclusion in the
case of diplomatic statements claiming rights in bad faith, or in the case of attempts by one State
to induce another to relinquish its rights through repeated statements, veiled threats, or
diplomatic coercion.

That, however, is not the case on the record before the Tribunal.

Accordingly, the Tribunal concludes that China’s diplomatic statements to the Philippines
regarding their respective rights, although incorrect with respect to the law, do not constitute
breaches of the Convention.
706. The Tribunal reaches the same conclusions with respect to the communications of the Chinese
Embassy in Manila with Nido Petroleum Company (see paragraph 664 above). Even taking
Nido’s account of that conversation as fully accurate, the most that can be attributed to the
Chinese diplomat in question is the statement that “all areas within [China’s ‘9-dash line’] map
are being claimed by PRC, including those areas covered by Nido’s existing service contracts
with the Philippine Government.”

727

There is no evidence before the Tribunal that the

conversation included any efforts to induce Nido to cease operations in the SC58 block, any
indication of adverse consequences if Nido declined to do so, or even a request that Nido refrain
from further operations. On the evidence before the Tribunal, China’s representative merely
informed Nido of China’s claim. When Nido suggested that China take the matter up with the
Philippine Department of Energy, China’s representative left and did not return. The Tribunal

727

Letter from Country Representative, Nido Petroleum, to the Office of the Undersecretary, Department of
Energy of the Republic of Philippines (7 October 2013) (Annex 340).

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considers that China’s actions in merely informing a private party of its claims in the South
China Sea do not, without more,728 constitute breaches of the Convention.
707. The Tribunal reaches a different conclusion, however, with respect to China’s actions in
connection with the survey operations of M/V Veritas Voyager. The Tribunal accepts the
Philippine Navy’s contemporaneous record of events as accurate and notes that the key passage
of that account records as follows:
two (2) (Chinese) surveillance vessels approached MV Veritas Voyager again and informed
them that they are operating in the territorial waters of China under the UN charter. The
Party Manager replied that the Veritas Voyager was operating in the territory of the
Philippines with all the required permits. The Marine surveillance vessels then ordered the
Veritas Voyager to stop the production and leave the area. After consultation with CGGV
senior management, the Party Manager, informed the Chinese Surveillance vessels that
they would stop production and proceed to the recovery area. 729

708. On these facts, the Tribunal does not consider that China’s actions were limited to stating its
understanding of the Parties’ respective rights.

Rather, China acted directly to induce

M/V Veritas Voyager to cease operations and to depart from an area that constitutes part of the
continental shelf of the Philippines. Prior to this, the Tribunal notes, China was unequivocally
aware that there existed a difference of views regarding the Parties’ respective entitlements in
the South China Sea and, in particular, in the area of Reed Bank. On the account of China’s
own diplomats (as memorialised at the time by the Philippines), “China has made repeated
representations with the Philippines on the GSEC 101 issue since 2002.”730 A dispute on this
issue was evident, and the approach called for by the Convention was for the Parties to seek to
resolve their differences through negotiations or the other modes of dispute resolution identified
in Part XV of the Convention and the UN Charter. Instead, China sought to carry out its own
understanding of its rights through the actions of its marine surveillance vessels. China having
done so, the Tribunal considers that China’s actions amount to a breach of Article 77 of the
Convention, which accords sovereign rights to the Philippines with respect to its continental
shelf in the area of Reed Bank (the area in question).

728

The Tribunal notes that Nido’s account also indicates that, approximately one year later, it was informed
by a Chinese subcontractor that the subcontractor would not work in the area of the SC54 and SC58
blocks due to China’s territorial claims. This is an action by a private party. There is no evidence before
the Tribunal that would suggest that the actions of Nido’s subcontractor are attributable to China.

729

Memorandum from Colonel, Philippine Navy, to Flag Officer in Command, Philippine Navy (March
2011) (Annex 69).

730

Memorandum from the Acting Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Affairs, Department of Foreign
Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs (10 March 2011) (Annex 70).

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ii.

Acts in relation to Living Resources

709. In the case of living resources, the Tribunal notes that the Philippines has, again, identified
several distinct types of conduct on the part of China that it considers to violate its sovereign
rights in the exclusive economic zone. First, the Philippines objects to China’s extension of its
jurisdiction over fisheries in the South China Sea through the 2012 moratorium on fishing in the
area north of 12° N latitude and through the Hainan Regulation. Second, the Philippines objects
to China’s prevention of fishing by Philippine vessels at Mischief Reef and Second Thomas
Shoal.
710. With respect to China’s assertion of fisheries jurisdiction, the Tribunal asked the Philippines to
clarify “[w]hether China has sought to enforce either the May 2012 fishing ban or the
Regulations for the Management of Coastal Border Security in Hainan Province against
Philippines fishing vessels and the specifics of such enforcement.” 731

In response, the

Philippines asserted that China had done so.732 As evidence of this, the Philippines advanced a
Note Verbale from China in which China asserted its right to impose a fishing moratorium in
the South China Sea, requested the Philippines to educate its fishermen to comply with the
moratorium, and cautioned the Philippines that “Chinese law-enforcing authorities will
strengthen their maritime patrols and other law-enforcing actions, investigate and punish the
relevant fishing vessels and fishermen who violate the fishing moratorium in accordance with
the law.”733 The Philippines also noted that “[s]tatements like that have a deeply chilling effect
on Filipino fishermen and their activities.”734
711. As an initial matter, the Tribunal notes that the Note Verbale invoked by the Philippines dates
from 6 July 2015.

To the extent that diplomatic correspondence constitutes evidence of

enforcement actions taken by China, the Note Verbale would relate, if at all, to the fishing
moratorium imposed by China in the summer of 2015. The Philippines did not invoke any other
evidence that would establish that the 2012 fishing moratorium was enforced against any
Philippine fishing vessel in any area falling in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, nor has
the Tribunal seen any such indication in the record before it.

Accordingly, the Tribunal

considers that the relevant question is whether China’s 2012 promulgation of the fishing

731

Letter from the Tribunal to the Parties (10 November 2015).

732

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 155.

733

Note Verbale from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Manila to the Department of
Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, No. (15) PG-229 (6 July 2015) (Annex 580).

734

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 156.

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moratorium itself, irrespective of whether the moratorium was directly enforced, infringes on
the rights of the Philippines and constitutes a breach of the Convention.
712. On this question, the Tribunal considers that the adoption of legislation or the promulgation of
the fishing moratorium as a regulation differs from the mere assertion of China’s rights in its
diplomatic communications with the Philippines. Examining the scope of application specified
in the moratorium itself,735 and noting the public reports to the effect that the ban would apply in
“most parts of the South China Sea” and in the “areas north of the 12th parallel, including
Huangyan Island [Scarborough Shoal],” 736 the Tribunal concludes that the moratorium was
intended to apply to areas of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone north of 12° N latitude
and was not limited to Chinese flagged vessels. In contrast to mere statements, the fishing
moratorium established a realistic prospect that Filipino fisherman, seeking to exploit the
resources of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, could be exposed to the punitive
measures spelled out in the moratorium, including the possible confiscation of the fishing vessel
in question. The Tribunal considers that such developments may have a deterring effect on
Filipino fishermen and their activities. In effect, the 2012 fishing moratorium constituted an
assertion by China of jurisdiction in areas in which jurisdiction over fisheries is reserved to the
Philippines through the operation of the provisions of the Convention concerning the exclusive
economic zone. The Tribunal considers that such an assertion of jurisdiction amounts to a
breach of Article 56 of the Convention, which accords sovereign rights to the Philippines with
respect to the living resources of its exclusive economic zone.
713. The Tribunal reaches a different conclusion with respect to the Hainan Regulation. As an initial
matter, the Tribunal sees no provision on the face of the Hainan Regulation that would restrict
the rights of the Philippines over the resources of its exclusive economic zone. Moreover, the
Tribunal notes that China has publicly stated that the regulation applies only within 12 nautical
miles of Hainan.737 The Tribunal does not consider that the Hainan Regulation infringes on the
rights of the Philippines or amounts to a breach of the provisions of the Convention concerning
the exclusive economic zone.
714. Finally, with respect to China’s alleged prevention of Philippine vessels from fishing at
Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal, the Tribunal notes that there is a distinct lack of
735

People’s Republic of China, Ministry of Agriculture, South China Sea Fishery Bureau, Announcement on
the 2012 Summer Ban on Marine Fishing in the South China Sea Maritime Space (10 May 2012)
(Annex 118).

736

See “Fishing ban starts in South China Sea,” Xinhua (17 May 2012) (Annex 318).

737

“China says ‘board and search’ sea rules limited to Hainan coast,” Reuters (31 December 2012), available
at <in.reuters.com/article/china-seas-idINL4N0A51QH20121231>.

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evidence on this question in the record before it. Prior to the hearing, the Tribunal invited the
Philippines to clarify “the specifics of the actions taken by China” to prevent fishing by
Philippines vessels at Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal.738 The Philippines has stated
with respect to Mischief Reef that “China has acted to prevent Filipino fishermen from fishing
there ever since it took physical control of the reef in 1995.”739 The Philippines said China’s
actions to restrict Filipino fishing at Second Thomas Shoal “have also primarily taken place
within 12 miles of Second Thomas Shoal ever since China took de facto control of that feature
in May 2013.”740 The Philippines further stated that “Chinese marine surveillance vessels, navy
warships and fishing administration vessels have surrounded the shoal. They have blocked
Philippine vessels, including civilian vessels, from approaching Second Thomas Shoal.” 741
With respect to evidence of these assertions, however, the Tribunal has reviewed the record
identified by the Philippines and is not able to identify a single documented instance in which
Chinese Government vessels acted to prevent Filipino fishermen from fishing at either Second
Thomas Shoal or Mischief Reef.
715. The Tribunal hastens to emphasise that the absence of evidence on this point in the record
before it does not mean that such events did not occur or that China’s actions may not otherwise
have dissuaded Filipino fishermen from approaching Second Thomas Shoal and Mischief Reef.
The Tribunal can readily imagine that the presence of Chinese law enforcement vessels at both
locations, combined with China’s general claim to fisheries jurisdiction in the South China Sea,
could well lead Filipino fishermen to avoid such areas. The Tribunal is not, however, prepared
to find a violation of the Convention on this basis. The Tribunal considers that the Philippines
has not established that China has prevented Filipino fishermen from fishing at Mischief Reef or
Second Thomas Shoal and that, in this respect, the provisions of the Convention concerning
fisheries are not implicated.

738

Letter from the Tribunal to the Parties, 10 November 2015.

739

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 156.

740

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 158.

741

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 158.

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(c)

Conclusion

716. Based on the considerations outlined above, the Tribunal finds that China has, through the
operation of its marine surveillance vessels with respect to M/V Veritas Voyager on
1 to 2 March 2011 breached Article 77 of the Convention with respect to the Philippines’
sovereign rights over the non-living resources of its continental shelf in the area of Reed Bank.
The Tribunal further finds that China has, by promulgating its 2012 moratorium on fishing in
the South China Sea, without exception for areas of the South China Sea falling within the
exclusive economic zone of the Philippines and without limiting the moratorium to Chinese
flagged vessels, breached Article 56 of the Convention with respect to the Philippines’
sovereign rights over the living resources of its exclusive economic zone.

*

*

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B.

ALLEGED FAILURE TO PREVENT CHINESE NATIONALS FROM EXPLOITING THE
PHILIPPINES’ LIVING RESOURCES (SUBMISSION NO. 9)
1.

Introduction

717. In this Section, the Tribunal addresses the Parties’ dispute concerning China’s toleration of
fishing by Chinese vessels in the areas of the South China Sea located within the Philippines’
exclusive economic zone. This dispute is reflected in Submission No. 9 of the Philippines,
which requests the Tribunal to declare that:
(9)

2.

China has unlawfully failed to prevent its nationals and vessels from exploiting the
living resources in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines;

Factual Background

718. The Philippines’ allegations in respect of this Submission concern developments at Mischief
Reef and Second Thomas Shoal, both of which are low-tide elevations lying within 200 nautical
miles of the Philippines’ baselines.
719. Since 3 May 2013, China has maintained a significant presence of naval and CMS vessels near
Second Thomas Shoal. As reported by the Armed Forces of the Philippines:
Starting 03 May 2013, China maintained the presence of at least two (2) vessels at Ayungin
Shoal [Second Thomas Shoal]. Since then, two (2) PLA Navy frigates (BN 562 and 563)
and five (5) CMLEA vessels (CMS BN 84, 167, 75, 71 and 8002) have been monitored
deployed in the shoal and its outlying areas on a rotation basis. 742

720. These government vessels have been accompanied by a number of fishing vessels. Thus on
4 May 2013, the Philippines’ marine detachment maintained on the wreck of the BRP Sierra
Madre on Second Thomas Shoal reported the presence of “1 PLA Navy, 2 CMS, and 1 Chinese
steel-hulled fishing vessels . . . in the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal.”743 On 11 May 2013, the
Armed Forces of the Philippines reported the presence of:

PLA Navy Frigate at vicinity 6 [nautical miles] northwest off Ayungin Detachment.

2 CMS vessels at vicinity 7 [nautical miles] southeast off Ayungin Detachment;

1 CMS vessel at vicinity 4 [nautical miles] north off Ayungin Detachment.

1 Hainan-type Fishing Vessel at vicinity 3 [nautical miles] northeast off Ayungin
Detachment. and,

742

Armed Forces of the Philippines, Near-occupation of Chinese Vessels of Second Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal
in the Early Weeks of May 2012 (May 2013) (Annex 94).

743

Armed Forces of the Philippines, Near-occupation of Chinese Vessels of Second Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal
in the Early Weeks of May 2012 (May 2013) (Annex 94).

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1 Hainan-type Fishing Vessel at vicinity 3NM south off Ayungin Detachment 744

And on 16 May 2013, the Philippines Air Force reported several fishing vessels apparently at
work in the vicinity of Second Thomas Shoal:
PAF Nomad-22 MAS sighted JIANGHU V Missile Frigate 562 (DESIG JIANGMEN),
CMS 84 and 167 in the vicinity of Ayungin shoal [Second Thomas Shoal], along with a
steel-hulled Hainan fishing vessel and a suspected Hainan fishing vessel with three dinghies
believed to be gathering corals and clams and dredging in the shoal. 745

721. The Philippines’ military has likewise reported the presence of Chinese fishing vessels, escorted
by Chinese Government ships, at Mischief Reef, where China has maintained a presence since
1995. A Philippines’ report from May 2013 notes as follows:
at least 33 Chinese fishing vessels were said to have been fishing at the Chinese-occupied
Mischief Reef and nearby features since 08 May 2013, escorted by a PLA Navy ship and
CMS vessels . . . . 746

3.

The Philippines’ Position

722. The Philippines submits that the Tribunal has jurisdiction to consider its Submission No. 9, for
the same reasons set out with respect to its Submission No. 8 (see paragraphs 681 to 682 above).
723. On the merits, the Philippines argues that China has violated its obligations under Article 56 of
the Convention to respect the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of the Philippines by failing to
prevent its nationals and vessels from exploiting the living resources of the Philippines’
exclusive economic zone.
724. The Philippines argues that as China has established de facto control over areas of the South
China Sea, it has acted to prevent fishing by Philippine vessels, while tolerating fishing by
Chinese nationals and vessels, including in areas that comprise the Philippines’ exclusive
economic zone. Thus, according to the Philippines, “since 1995, when China seized and began
occupying Mischief Reef, just 126 [nautical miles] off the coast of Palawan, it has prevented
Philippines vessels from fishing there. In contrast, Chinese fishing vessels under China’s
protection have fished freely in the adjacent waters, even though they are part of the
Philippines’ EEZ.”747 Similarly, the Philippines argues, “after China took de facto control of
Second Thomas Shoal in May 2013, it began interfering with Philippine fishing activities in the
744

Armed Forces of the Philippines, Near-occupation of Chinese Vessels of Second Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal
in the Early Weeks of May 2012 (May 2013) (Annex 94).

745

Armed Forces of the Philippines, Near-occupation of Chinese Vessels of Second Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal
in the Early Weeks of May 2012 (May 2013) (Annex 94).

746

Armed Forces of the Philippines, Near-occupation of Chinese Vessels of Second Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal
in the Early Weeks of May 2012 (May 2013) (Annex 94).

747

Memorial, para. 6.36.

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area, while allowing fishing by Chinese vessels, notwithstanding that Second Thomas Shoal is
part of the Philippines’ EEZ.”748
725. Pursuant to Article 56 of the Convention, the Philippines argues, “States have an obligation,
acting in good faith, to take the measures necessary to prevent their nationals from exploiting
the living resources in the EEZ of another State party.”749 In the Philippines’ view, the scope of
this duty “extends to such actions as are reasonably necessary to give full effect to the exclusive
rights of the coastal State conferred by Article 56.”750
726. The Philippines relies in particular on the Fisheries Advisory Opinion of the International
Tribunal for the Law of the Sea,751 emphasising the portions of that decision that recognise that
a State has an obligation to ensure that its nationals and vessels comply with any conditions or
regulations imposed by the coastal State when fishing within its exclusive economic zone and to
ensure that vessels flying its flag do not engage in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (“IUU”)
fishing.752 The Philippines also adopts the definition of the “obligation to ensure” set out in the
Advisory Opinion, which provides that such an obligation is an obligation “to deploy adequate
means, to exercise best possible efforts, to do the utmost.”753
727. Applying this standard to the activities of Chinese fishermen, the Philippines submits that:
Instead of adopting measures to prevent fishing, Chinese authorities have actively
encouraged illegal and unregulated fishing by Chinese vessels in the Philippines’ EEZ. In
circumstances in which China has explicitly authorised its own vessels to engage in fishing
activities in the EEZ of the Philippines, it simply cannot be said that China has “deployed
adequate means” to prevent such fishing activity. Nor can it be said that China has
“exercise[d] best possible efforts” to prevent illegal and unregulated fishing activities. And
it certainly cannot be said that China has done “the utmost, to obtain [the] result” that its
vessels shall not fish in the Philippines’ EEZ. 754

728. The Philippines concludes that “China is not per se responsible for the actions of its fishermen,
‘but it is responsible for its own failure to control their illegal and damaging activities.’”755 The

748

Memorial, para. 6.36.

749

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 160.

750

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 160.

751

Request for Advisory Opinion submitted by the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission, Advisory Opinion,
2 April 2015, ITLOS Reports 2015.

752

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), pp. 85-86.

753

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), p. 86; Request for Advisory Opinion submitted by the Sub-Regional Fisheries
Commission, Advisory Opinion, 2 April 2015, ITLOS Reports 2015, para. 129.

754

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), pp. 87-88.

755

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), p. 88.

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Philippines considers that China’s failure to control its fishermen amounts to a breach of the
Convention that engages the State responsibility of China.756
4.

China’s Position

729. As far as the Tribunal is aware, China has never directly addressed the allegation that it has
unlawfully permitted its fishermen to fish within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone at
Second Thomas Shoal or Mischief Reef.
730. Rather, the position that consistently appears in China’s contemporaneous statements is that it
does not consider the Philippines to have rights in the area of Second Thomas Shoal and
Mischief Reef. Thus, in its diplomatic correspondence with the Philippines, China has stated
generally that:
China possesses indisputable sovereignty over Nansha Islands and its adjacent waters, and
the construction, usage and other activities at the relevant islands, reefs, shoals and sands
are actions completely within the scope of China’s sovereignty, sovereign rights and
jurisdiction.757

731. China has repeatedly demanded that the Philippines withdraw its personnel from Second
Thomas Shoal in the following terms:
The Chinese side demands the Philippine side withdraw all its personnel and facilities from
China’s islands and reefs, and honor its commitment to tow away its illegally “grounded”
vessel on China’s Ren’ai Jiao [Second Thomas Shoal] . . . .758

732. Likewise, China has stated that “China has indisputable sovereignty over Nansha Islands and
their adjacent waters, Meiji Jiao [Mischief Reef] . . . included.”759

756

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), p. 89.

757

Note Verbale from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China to the Embassy of the
Republic of the Philippines in Beijing, No. (2015) Bu Bian Zi No. 5 (20 January 2015) (Annex 681).

758

Note Verbale from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Manila to the Department of
Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, No. 14 (PG)-195 (30 June 2014) (Annex 675); Note Verbale
from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Manila to the Department of Foreign Affairs,
Republic of the Philippines, No. 14 (PG)-197 (4 July 2014) (Annex 676); Note Verbale from the Embassy
of the People’s Republic of China in Manila to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the
Philippines, No. 14 (PG)-264 (2 September 2014) (Annex 678); see also Note Verbale from the Embassy
of the People’s Republic of China in Manila to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the
Philippines, No. 14 (PG)-336 (28 October 2014) (Annex 680); Note Verbale from the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, People’s Republic of China to the Embassy of the Republic of the Philippines in Beijing,
No. (2015) Bu Bian Zi No. 5 (20 January 2015) (Annex 681); Note Verbale from the Embassy of the
People’s Republic of China in Manila to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines,
No. 15 (PG)-068 (4 March 2015) (Annex 685); Note Verbale from the Department of Boundary and
Ocean Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, to the Embassy of the Republic
of the Philippines in Beijing, No. (2015) Bu Bian Zi No. 22 (30 March 2015) (Annex 686); Note Verbale
from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Manila to the Department of Foreign Affairs,
Republic of the Philippines, No. (2015) PG-329 (29 September 2015) (Annex 692).

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5.

The Tribunal’s Considerations
(a)

The Tribunal’s Jurisdiction

733. In its Award on Jurisdiction, the Tribunal deferred any final decision with respect to its
jurisdiction concerning the Philippines’ Submission No. 9, for the same reason that it deferred
consideration of its jurisdiction with respect to the Philippines’ Submission No. 8 (see
paragraphs 690 to 691 above). Specifically, the Tribunal considered that its jurisdiction over
these Submissions was contingent on whether Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal were
low-tide elevations and whether any other feature claimed by China is capable of generating an
entitlement to an exclusive economic zone in the area of those features that would overlap the
entitlement of the Philippines.
734. Having determined that Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal are both low-tide elevations,
and that no high-tide feature in the Spratly Islands is capable of generating an entitlement to an
exclusive economic zone, the Tribunal concludes that it has jurisdiction with respect to the
Philippines’ Submission No. 9 for the same reason already stated with respect to
Submission No. 8 (see paragraphs 692 to 695 above).

(b)

The Law Applicable to China’s Supervision of its Fishing Vessels

735. The Tribunal has held that Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal are low-tide elevations
located within areas where only the Philippines possesses possible entitlements to maritime
zones under the Convention. The relevant areas can only constitute the exclusive economic
zone of the Philippines. Accordingly, the Philippines—and not China—possesses sovereign
rights with respect to resources in these areas, and the law relevant to Chinese fishing activities
at these reef formations is the law governing fishing by the vessels of one State in the exclusive
economic zone of another.
736. In this respect, Article 61(1) of the Convention provides that “[t]he coastal State shall determine
the allowable catch of the living resources in its exclusive economic zone.” The remainder of
Article 61 concerns the process through which the coastal State will determine the allowable
catch.
737. Article 62 of the Convention then outlines the circumstances in which vessels of other States
will have access to the fisheries of a State’s exclusive economic zone. Article 62(2) provides
759

Note Verbale from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Manila to the Department of
Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, No. 15 (PG)-214 (28 June 2015) (Annex 689).

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that “[w]here the coastal State does not have the capacity to harvest the entire allowable catch, it
shall, through agreements or other arrangements and pursuant to the terms, conditions, laws and
regulations referred to in paragraph 4, give other States access to the surplus of the allowable
catch . . . .” Article 62(3) then provides guidance on the factors to be considered in according
access to other States.
738. These provisions make clear that it is the Philippines that controls the process of granting and
regulating access to the fisheries of its exclusive economic zone, subject to the provisions of the
Convention in doing so. It is thus for the Philippines to determine the allowable catch for
fisheries within its exclusive economic zone. If after determining the allowable catch, the
Philippines also determines that it lacks the capacity to fully harvest the allowable catch, it must
allow other States access to the fishery.
739. Article 62(4) then imposes an obligation on nationals of other States fishing in the exclusive
economic zone to comply with the laws and regulations of the coastal State and sets out an
illustrative list of the areas that may be regulated. Article 62(4) provides in full as follows:
Nationals of other States fishing in the exclusive economic zone shall comply with the
conservation measures and with the other terms and conditions established in the laws and
regulations of the coastal State. These laws and regulations shall be consistent with this
Convention and may relate, inter alia, to the following:
(a)

licensing of fishermen, fishing vessels and equipment, including payment of fees
and other forms of remuneration, which, in the case of developing coastal States,
may consist of adequate compensation in the field of financing, equipment and
technology relating to the fishing industry;

(b)

determining the species which may be caught, and fixing quotas of catch, whether in
relation to particular stocks or groups of stocks or catch per vessel over a period of
time or to the catch by nationals of any State during a specified period;

(c)

regulating seasons and areas of fishing, the types, sizes and amount of gear, and the
types, sizes and number of fishing vessels that may be used;

(d)

fixing the age and size of fish and other species that may be caught;

(e)

specifying information required of fishing vessels, including catch and effort
statistics and vessel position reports;

(f)

requiring, under the authorization and control of the coastal State, the conduct of
specified fisheries research programmes and regulating the conduct of such research,
including the sampling of catches, disposition of samples and reporting of associated
scientific data;

(g)

the placing of observers or trainees on board such vessels by the coastal State;

(h)

the landing of all or any part of the catch by such vessels in the ports of the coastal
State;

(i)

terms and conditions relating to joint ventures or other cooperative arrangements;

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(j)

requirements for the training of personnel and the transfer of fisheries technology,
including enhancement of the coastal State’s capability of undertaking fisheries
research;

(k)

enforcement procedures.

740. Article 62(4) thus expressly requires Chinese nationals to comply with the licensing and other
access procedures of the Philippines within any area forming part of the exclusive economic
zone of the Philippines. The Convention imposes an obligation directly on private parties
engaged in fishing that would apply to Chinese nationals and vessels engaged in fishing at
Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal and require them to comply with the terms and
conditions of the laws and regulations of the Philippines.
741. The Convention also imposes obligations on States Parties with respect to activities in the
exclusive economic zone of other States. Article 58(3) of the Convention provides as follows:
In exercising their rights and performing their duties under this Convention in the exclusive
economic zone, States shall have due regard to the rights and duties of the coastal State and
shall comply with the laws and regulations adopted by the coastal State in accordance with
the provisions of this Convention and other rules of international law in so far as they are
not incompatible with this Part.

742. The nature of the obligation to have “due regard to the rights and duties” of another State was
considered by the tribunal in the Chagos Marine Protected Area Arbitration in the context of
Article 56(2) (concerning the reversed situation of the regard owed by the coastal State to the
rights and duties of other States within its exclusive economic zone). The tribunal in that matter
reasoned as follows:
the ordinary meaning of “due regard” calls for the [first State] to have such regard for the
rights of [the second State] as is called for by the circumstances and by the nature of those
rights. The Tribunal declines to find in this formulation any universal rule of conduct. The
Convention does not impose a uniform obligation to avoid any impairment of [the second
State’s] rights; nor does it uniformly permit the [first State] to proceed as it wishes, merely
noting such rights. Rather, the extent of the regard required by the Convention will depend
upon the nature of the rights held by [the second State], their importance, the extent of the
anticipated impairment, the nature and importance of the activities contemplated by the
[first State], and the availability of alternative approaches. 760

743. In the context of the duties of a flag State with respect to fishing by its nationals, the
International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea interpreted the obligation of due regard, when read
in conjunction with the obligations directly imposed upon nationals by Article 62(4), to extend
to a duty “to take the necessary measures to ensure that their nationals and vessels flying their

760

Chagos Marine Protected Area Arbitration (Mauritius v. United Kingdom), Award of 18 March 2015,
para. 519.

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flag are not engaged in IUU fishing activities.”761 The Fisheries Advisory Opinion goes on to
note that:
the obligation of a flag State . . . to ensure that vessels flying its flag are not involved in
IUU fishing is also an obligation “of conduct”. . . . as an obligation “of conduct” this is a
“due diligence obligation”, not an obligation “of result”. . . . The flag State is under the
“due diligence obligation” to take all necessary measures to ensure compliance and to
prevent IUU fishing by fishing vessels flying its flag. 762

744. The Tribunal agrees with the Fisheries Advisory Opinion in this respect. Given the importance
of fisheries to the entire concept of the exclusive economic zone, the degree to which the
Convention subordinates fishing within the exclusive economic zone to the control of the
coastal State, and the obligations expressly placed on the nationals of other States by Article
62(4) of the Convention, the Tribunal considers that anything less than due diligence by a State
in preventing its nationals from unlawfully fishing in the exclusive economic zone of another
would fall short of the regard due pursuant to Article 58(3) of the Convention.
(c)

The Activities of Chinese Fishing Vessels at Mischief Reef and Second Thomas
Shoal

745. With respect to Chinese activities at Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal, the Tribunal
notes that it has limited evidence before it. The record of Chinese fishing at these features is
restricted to reports from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and confined to a single period in
May 2013.

The most information is available from Second Thomas Shoal, where the

Philippines maintains a small marine detachment, but even there it is apparent that the
Philippines is able to observe the activities of China’s vessels only from a distance and has not
sought to enforce its regulations or restrict the activities of Chinese vessels. China’s de facto
control over the waters surrounding both features effectively limits the information available to
the Philippines and to this Tribunal.
746. Despite these limitations, the Tribunal is prepared to accept that the account of events provided
by the Armed Forces of the Philippines is accurate and that Chinese fishing vessels,
accompanied by the ships of CMS, were engaged in fishing at both Mischief Reef and Second
Thomas Shoal in May 2013. It does so for two reasons.
747. First, the Tribunal notes that China has asserted sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the South
China Sea, generally, and has apparently not accepted these areas as part of the Philippines’
761

Request for an Advisory Opinion Submitted by the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission (SRFC), Advisory
Opinion of 2 April 2015, ITLOS Reports 2015, para. 124.

762

Request for an Advisory Opinion Submitted by the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission (SRFC), Advisory
Opinion of 2 April 2015, ITLOS Reports 2015, para. 129.

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exclusive economic zone (see paragraphs 730 to 732 above). Indeed, the Tribunal notes that
China has issued a “Nansha Certification of Fishing Permit” to its nationals, 763 which the
Tribunal understands to extend to the area of Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal. The
Tribunal considers this assertion of jurisdiction over the activities of (at least) Chinese
fishermen in the South China Sea to support the Philippines’ evidence that Chinese vessels have
indeed been fishing at Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal.
748. Second, the pattern of Chinese fishing activity at Mischief Reef and Second Shoal is consistent
with that exhibited at other reef formations for which the Tribunal has information. Thus, in the
case of Subi Reef, the Philippines reports as follows:
a Chinese fishing fleet composed of 30 vessels under a unified command sailed on 06 May
2013 from Hainan province, China to the disputed Spratly Islands in the West Philippine
Sea for a “40-day operation.” The “40-day operation” is the second of its kind organized
by local fishery associations after Sansha City was established by China in June 2012.
Each vessel in the fleet, equipped with all-weather communication devices, weighs more
than 100 metric tons. Further, a 4,000-ton supply ship and a 1,500-ton transport ship were
supplying the fishing vessels with fuel, food, water and other necessities. 764

749. Meanwhile, in the case of Scarborough Shoal, the Tribunal has ample, corroborated evidence of
fishing by Chinese vessels working in apparently close coordination with government vessels
from CMS and the Fisheries Law Enforcement Command (“FLEC”) in the period of April and
May 2012. 765 These incidents are discussed in detail in connection with the Philippines’
Submissions No. 11 and 13.
750. The Tribunal notes that Subi Reef and Scarborough Shoal are not, as a legal matter, comparable
to Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal. Subi Reef lies within the territorial sea of Sandy
Cay on the reefs adjacent to Thitu (see paragraphs 367 to 373 above) while Scarborough Shoal
is a high-tide feature that would generate its own entitlements to a territorial sea

763

See Note Verbale from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, to the Embassy of
the People’s Republic of China in Manila, No. 15-2341 (16 June 2015) (Annex 690). Details of the
Chinese fishing permit system for the Spratly Islands are also evident on the website of the Department of
Ocean and Fisheries of Hainan Province, available at <dof.hainan.gov.cn/wsbs/bszn/
200809/t20080907_993887.html>.

764

Armed Forces of the Philippines, Near-occupation of Chinese Vessels of Second Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal
in the Early Weeks of May 2012 (May 2013) (Annex 94).

765

See, e.g., Memorandum from Colonel, Philippine Navy, to Chief of Staff, Armed Forces of the
Philippines, No. N2E-0412-008 (11 April 2012) (Annex 77); Report from the Commanding Officer,
SARV-003, Philippine Coast Guard, to Commander, Coast Guard District Northwestern Luzon,
Philippine Coast Guard (28 April 2012) (Annex 78); Memorandum from the FRPLEU/QRT Chief,
Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Republic of the Philippines, to Director, Bureau of Fisheries
and Aquatic Resources, Republic of the Philippines (2 May 2012) (Annex 79); Report from
FRPLEU/QRT Officers, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Republic of the Philippines, to
Director, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Republic of the Philippines (2 May 2012)
(Annex 80).

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(see paragraphs 333 to 334 above). The Tribunal has not addressed—and will not address—the
question of which State has sovereignty over Sandy Cay, Thitu, or Scarborough Shoal and
would thus have an entitlement to the surrounding territorial sea.
751. In contrast, Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal are not capable of generating entitlements
to maritime zones and can only form part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Nevertheless, in light of the fact that China has not accepted these areas as part of the
Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, the Tribunal considers the similarities in Chinese fishing
activities at all of these features to be a significant indication of what has taken place at
Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal.
752. The Tribunal expects, from the general positions of the Parties, that Chinese vessels have
continued to fish at Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal since May 2013. The Tribunal
does not, however, have the direct evidence before it that would enable it to draw such a
conclusion for the period subsequent to May 2013.
*
753. Having established that Chinese vessels have been engaged in fishing at Mischief Reef and
Second Thomas Shoal in May 2013, the Tribunal considers that China has failed to show the
due regard called for by Article 58(3) of the Convention to the Philippines’ sovereign rights
with respect to fisheries within its exclusive economic zone.
754. In many cases, the precise scope and application of the obligation on a flag State to exercise due
diligence in respect of fishing by vessels flying its flag in the exclusive economic zone of
another State may be difficult to determine. Often, unlawful fishing will be carried out covertly,
far from any official presence, and it will be far from obvious what the flag State could
realistically have done to prevent it. That, however, is not the case here.
755. Chinese fishing vessels have in all reported instances been closely escorted by government
CMS vessels. The actions of these ships constitute official acts of China and are all attributable
to China as such. Indeed, the accounts of officially organised fishing fleets from Hainan at Subi
Reef and the close coordination exhibited between fishing vessels and government ships at
Scarborough Shoal support an inference that China’s fishing vessels are not simply escorted and
protected, but organised and coordinated by the Government. In any event, there can be no
question that the officers aboard the Chinese Government vessels in question were fully aware
of the actions being taken by Chinese fishermen and were able to halt them had they chosen to
do so.

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756. The obligation to have due regard to the rights of the Philippines is unequivocally breached
when vessels under Chinese Government control act to escort and protect Chinese fishing
vessels engaged in fishing unlawfully in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
(d)

Conclusion

757. Based on the considerations outlined above, the Tribunal finds that China has, through the
operation of its marine surveillance vessels in tolerating and failing to exercise due diligence to
prevent fishing by Chinese flagged vessels at Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal in May
2013, failed to exhibit due regard for the Philippines’ sovereign rights with respect to fisheries
in its exclusive economic zone.

Accordingly, China has breached its obligations under

Article 58(3) of the Convention.

*

*

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C.

CHINA’S ACTIONS IN RESPECT OF TRADITIONAL FISHING AT SCARBOROUGH SHOAL
(SUBMISSION NO. 10)
1.

Introduction

758. In this Section, the Tribunal addresses the Parties’ dispute concerning China’s actions with
respect to the traditional fishing activities of Philippine nationals at Scarborough Shoal. This
dispute is reflected in the Philippines’ Submission No. 10, which provides as follows:
(10)

China has unlawfully prevented Philippine fishermen from pursuing their
livelihoods by interfering with traditional fishing activities at Scarborough Shoal;

759. In its Award on Jurisdiction, the Tribunal held that this Submission reflects a dispute that does
not concern maritime boundary delimitation and is not barred from the Tribunal’s consideration
by any requirement of Section 1 of Part XV.766 The Tribunal noted that the Philippines had
clarified that the activities alleged all occurred within the 12-nautical-mile territorial sea
generated by Scarborough Shoal and that, accordingly, determination of Submission No. 10
does not depend on the characterisation of the feature as a rock or an island under Article 121 of
the Convention.767 Nor do Articles 297 and 298 of the Convention apply in the territorial sea to
restrict the Tribunal’s jurisdiction with respect to fisheries and law enforcement.768 In addition,
the Tribunal noted that traditional fishing rights “may exist even within the territorial waters of
another State,” and considered that its jurisdiction to address this dispute is not dependent on
any prior determination of sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal. 769

In consequence, the

Tribunal concluded that it has jurisdiction to address the matters raised in the Philippines’
Submission No. 10 “to the extent that the claimed rights and alleged interference occurred
within the territorial sea of Scarborough Shoal.”770
2.

Factual Background

760. The facts underlying the present Submission concern the conduct of Chinese Government
vessels at Scarborough Shoal since 2012, and in particular their interactions with Philippine
fishermen proximate to the feature.

766

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 407.

767

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 407.

768

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 407.

769

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 407.

770

Award on Jurisdiction, para. 407.

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(a)

Traditional Fishing by Philippine Fishermen at Scarborough Shoal

761. Even as several States have claimed sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal, there is evidence that
the surrounding waters have continued to serve as traditional fishing grounds for fishermen, 771
including those from the Philippines, Viet Nam, and China (including from Taiwan). The
background to a Philippine Navy report in the record before the Tribunal describes Scarborough
Shoal as “a traditional fishing ground of fishermen from neighbouring Asian countries that have
been heading to this area for its rich marine resources. Both foreign and local fishermen are
among those who venture to this atoll and they would be fishing there for about a week or
more.” 772 China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson has likewise asserted that “[t]he waters
surrounding the Huangyan Island [Scarborough Shoal] has been a traditional fishing ground for
Chinese fishermen.

Since ancient times, Chinese fishermen have been fishing in waters

surrounding the Island.” 773 Affidavits from Filipino fishermen proffered by the Philippines
describe having seen nationals of other States, including Viet Nam and China (including from
Taiwan), fishing at Scarborough Shoal.774
762. Historical cartography evidences a connection between Scarborough Shoal and the Philippine
mainland. A map of the Philippines produced in 1734 included the shoal;775 another produced
in 1784 labelled Scarborough Shoal as “Bajo de Masinloc”.776 Other documents provided by
the Philippines—including a 1953 book published by its Bureau of Fisheries—depict

771

See, e.g., P. Manacop, “The Principal Marine Fisheries” in D.V. Villadolid (ed.), Philippine Fisheries:
Handbook Prepared by the Technical Staff of the Bureau of Fisheries, p. 103 at p. 121 (1953) (Annex 8);
A.M. Mane, “Status, Problems and Prospects of the Philippine Fisheries Industry,” Philippine Farmers
Journal, Vol. 2, No. 4, p. 32 at p. 34 (1960) (Annex 244).

772

Memorandum from Colonel, Philippine Navy, to Chief of Staff, Armed Forces of the Philippines,
No. N2E-0412-008 (April 2012) (Annex 77).

773

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Liu Weimin’s
Regular Press Conference (18 April 2012), available at <nl.china-embassy.org/eng/
wjbfyrth/t925289.htm>.

774

See Affidavit of R.Z. Comandante (12 November 2015), paras. Q38-A38 (Annex 693) (hereinafter
“Affidavit of R.Z. Comandante”; Affidavit of T.D. Forones (12 November 2015), paras. Q8-A8 (Annex
694) (hereinafter “Affidavit of T.D. Forones”); Affidavit of M.C. Lanog (12 November 2015), paras.
Q26-A26 (Annex 695) (hereinafter “Affidavit of M.C. Lanog”); Affidavit of J.P. Legaspi (12 November
2015), paras. Q-18-A18 (Annex 696) (hereinafter “Affidavit of J.P. Legaspi”); Affidavit of Crispen
Talatagod (12 November 2015), paras. Q7-A7 (Annex 697) (hereinafter “Affidavit of C.D. Talatagod”);
Affidavit of C.O. Taneo (12 November 2015), paras. Q18-A18 (Annex 698) (hereinafter “Affidavit of
C.O. Taneo”).

775

A.R. Brotons, Spain in the Philippines (16th-19th Centuries), pp. 16, 24 (19 March 2014) (Annex 238).

776

Map of Pacific Ocean between the coast of California and Mexico and Japan, Philippines, and the coast of
China (Spain, c. 1784) (Annex M113).

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Scarborough Shoal as having historically served as one of the “principal fishing areas” for
Filipino fishermen.777
763. Affidavits of six fishermen interviewed by the Philippines confirm the practice of fishing at
Scarborough Shoal in recent generations, 778 providing direct documentation of Philippine
fishing activities in the area at least since 1982779 and indirect evidence from 1972.780 Fishes
caught at the shoal—primarily using spear and net fishing methods 781 —have historically
included “[b]onito, talakitok, tanguige and other species of fish found beneath or near rocks.”782
(b)

China’s Intermittent Prevention of Fishing by Philippine Vessels at
Scarborough Shoal (May 2012 to Present)

764. Beginning in April 2012, a series of incidents occurred between Philippine and Chinese vessels
at Scarborough Shoal that heightened tensions between the Parties. Philippine authorities
reported increasing numbers of Chinese fishing vessels at Scarborough Shoal and stepped up
inspections in response to indications that Chinese vessels were employing destructive fishing
methods and harvesting endangered giant clams, corals, and sea turtles. China increased the
deployment of its own FLEC and CMS vessels in response, leading to a series of incidents
between Chinese and Philippine vessels on 10 April 2012,

783

28 April 2012, 784 and

777

P. Manacop, “The Principal Marine Fisheries” in D.V. Villadolid (ed.), Philippine Fisheries: A Handbook
Prepared by the Technical Staff of the Bureau of Fisheries, p. 103 at p. 121 (1953) (Annex 8). See also
A.M. Mane, “Status, Problems and Prospects of the Philippine Fisheries Industry,” Philippine Farmers
Journal, Vol. 2, No. 4 (1960), p. 34 (Annex 244).

778

See Affidavit of R.Z. Comandante, paras. Q7-A8, Q12-A13, Q15-A19, Q35-A35, Q38-A38; Affidavit of
T.D. Forones, paras. Q7-A8, Q19-A19; Affidavit of M.C. Lanog, paras. Q13-A13, Q18-A18; Affidavit of
J.P. Legaspi, paras. Q2-A4, Q9-A11, Q18-A18; Affidavit of C.D. Talatagod, paras. Q6-A7, Q19-A19;
Affidavit of C.O. Taneo, paras. Q6-A9, Q14-A14, Q17-A18.

779

Affidavit of J.P. Legaspi, paras. Q4-A5; Affidavit of C.D. Talatagod, para. A7.

780

See also Affidavit of R.Z. Comandante, para. A12.

781

Affidavit of T.D. Forones, paras. A5, A11, A18, A20; Affidavit of J.P. Legaspi, para. Q12-A12,
Q15-A15; Affidavit of C.D. Talatagod, para. A4, A9, A20 (Annex 697).

782

Affidavit of R.Z. Comandante, para. A11.

783

See Memorandum from Colonel, Philippine Navy, to Chief of Staff, Armed Forces of the Philippines,
No. N2E-0412-008 (April 2012) (Annex 77); Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China,
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Liu Weimin’s Regular Press Conference (12 April 2012) (Annex 117);
Note Verbale from the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Philippines to the Embassy of
the People’s Republic of China in Manila, No. 12-0894 (11 April 2012) (Annex 205); Note Verbale from
the Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, to the Embassy of the People’s Republic
of China in Manila, No. 12-1137 (26 April 2012) (Annex 207); Note Verbale from the Embassy of the
People’s Republic of China in Manila to the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, No. (12)
PG-206 (29 April 2012) (Annex 208).

784

See Report from the Commanding Officer, SARV-003, Philippine Coast Guard, to Commander, Coast
Guard District Northwestern Luzon, Philippine Coast Guard, paras. 5.44-5.48 (28 April 2012)
(Annex 78); Memorandum from the FRPLEU/QRT Chief, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources,

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26 May 2012.785 The environmental implications of Chinese fishing are discussed in greater
detail with respect to Submission No. 11 (see paragraphs 815 to 993 below). The incidents
between Philippine and Chinese vessels are discussed in connection with the Philippines’
Submission No. 13 (see paragraphs 1044 to 1109 below).
765. Efforts to negotiate a mutual withdrawal of government vessels were not successful,786 and by
early June 2012, China had “deployed about 28 utility boats across the southeast entrance of the
shoal and rigged them together by rope to establish a makeshift boom or barrier,” blocking the
entrance to the lagoon of Scarborough Shoal.787
766. The record indicates that, as tensions intensified, fishermen active in the vicinity of Scarborough
Shoal were affected by the Parties’ dispute.

In a memorandum dated 2 June 2012, the

Commander of the Philippines’ “Naval Forces Northern Luzon” wrote that China’s barrier was
“likely designed to discourage if not prevent the ingress/egress of Philippine vessels to the
shoal.”788 He also noted that “[t]his recent action poses a danger to safety of life at sea among
Republic of the Philippines, to Director, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Republic of the
Philippines (2 May 2012) (Annex 79); Report from FRPLEU/QRT Officers, Bureau of Fisheries and
Aquatic Resources, Republic of the Philippines, to the Director, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic
Resources, Republic of the Philippines (2 May 2012) (Annex 80); Memorandum from the Embassy of the
Republic of the Philippines in Beijing to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the
Philippines, No. ZPE-080-2012-S (24 May 2012) (Annex 81); Embassy of the People’s Republic of
China in the Republic of the Philippines, China’s Sovereignty over the Huangyan Island is Indisputable
(15 May 2012) (Annex 119); Note Verbale from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the
Philippines, to the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Manila, No. 12-1222 (30 April 2012)
(Annex 209); Note Verbale from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, to the
Embassies of ASEAN Member States in Manila, No. 12-1372 (21 May 2012) (Annex 210); Note Verbale
from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Manila to the Department of Foreign Affairs,
Republic of the Philippines, No. (12) PG-239 (25 May 2012) (Annex 211); Note Verbale from the
Department of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Philippines to the Embassy of People’s Republic of
China in Manila, No. 12-1371 (21 May 2012) (Annex 688).
785

See Report from FRPLEU-QRT Officers, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Republic of the
Philippines, to the Director, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Republic of the Philippines
(28 May 2012) (Annex 82); Note Verbale from the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of
Philippines to the Embassy of People’s Republic of China in Manila, No. 12-1453 (31 May 2012)
(Annex 212); Note Verbale from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Manila to the
Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, No. (12) PG-251 (12 June 2012)
(Annex 213); Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Republic of the Philippines, “Ten
Questions Regarding Huangyan Island” (15 June 2012) (Annex 120).

786

Memorandum from the Embassy of the Republic of the Philippines in Beijing to the Secretary of Foreign
Affairs of the Republic of the Philippines, No. ZPE-080-2012-S (24 May 2012) (Annex 81);
Memorandum from the Embassy of the Republic of the Philippines in Beijing to the Secretary of Foreign
Affairs of the Republic of the Philippines, No. ZPE-110-2012-S (26 July 2012) (Annex 84).

787

Memorandum from the Commander, Naval Forces Northern Luzon, Philippine Navy, to the Flag Officer
in Command, Philippine Navy, No. CNFNL Rad Msg Cite NFCC-0612-001 (2 June 2012) (Annex 83).

788

Memorandum from the Commander, Naval Forces Northern Luzon, Philippine Navy, to the Flag Officer in
Command, Philippine Navy, No. CNFNL Rad Msg Cite NFCC-0612-001, para. 5 (2 June 2012)
(Annex 83).

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Philippine fishermen, who use the shoal as a shelter during the typhoon season to mitigate the
effects of the southwest monsoon.”789
767. Similarly, a memorandum submitted by the Director of the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and
Aquatic Resources states:
Since April 2012, when the Chinese took control of Scarborough Shoal, Filipinos find it
difficult to enter the shoal because the Chinese law enforcement vessels have created a “no
fishing zone” around it. Chinese patrol vessels enforce this zone by threatening Filipino
fishermen who attempt to fish at Scarborough.
This conduct of the Chinese government, together with its enactment of new laws, such as
the 2012 Hainan Regulations and the 2012 fishing ban, have created a deep sense of fear
among Filipino fishermen that has significantly curtailed their fishing activities and
severely impacted their ability to earn a livelihood.790

768. The accounts provided by Filipino fishermen confirm their exclusion from fishing grounds at
Scarborough Shoal. Mr. Crispen Talatagod, a retired fisherman from the municipality of
Infanta in Pangasinan province, stated:
I stopped fishing in 2012 because we were prohibited from fishing there by the Chinese. I
remember that when my companions and I went to Scarborough Shoal, we were met by an
armed member of [the] Chinese Coast Guard. The guard told us that they own Scarborough
Shoal and he prevented us from fishing there. We were surprised and afraid at that time.
We tried to hide and wait for nighttime before starting to fish, but the Chinese were able to
anticipate this. Again, they prohibited us from fishing in Scarborough Shoal. I was not
able to return since then.791

Similarly, Mr. Tolomeo Forones, a resident of Masinloc, recalled:
No one fishes there anymore. I tried to go back to Scarborough Shoal last June 2012 and
July 2013 with some members of the media. When we arrived only Chinese Coat Guard
vessels were there to drive away anyone who attempts to go in. 792

Additionally, Mr. Cecilio Taneo, of Masinloc, said:
The Filipinos were prohibited by the Chinese from entering the Scarborough Shoal. While
the Filipinos are still far from reaching the Scarborough Shoal, the Chinese already gave a
signal not to proceed further. The Chinese used water cannons against the Filipinos. 793

769. During other periods, however, fishermen were occasionally permitted to continue to fish at the
shoal. Opportunities to do so appear to have been limited. Mr. Jowe Legaspi, a fisherman who
began fishing at Scarborough Shoal in 1994,794 reported:
789

Memorandum from the Commander, Naval Forces Northern Luzon, Philippine Navy, to the Flag Officer
in Command, Philippine Navy, No. CNFNL Rad Msg Cite NFCC-0612-001 (2 June 2012), para. 5
(Annex 83).

790

Affidavit of A.G. Perez, Director, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Republic of the
Philippines, paras. 5-6 (26 March 2014) (Annex 241).

791

Affidavit of C.D. Talatagod, para. A24.

792

Affidavit of T.D. Forones, para. A25.

793

Affidavit of C.O. Taneo, para. A30.

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[I]n February to March 2014, they temporarily let fishermen in at Scarborough Shoal. But
suddenly in April 2014, they ward us off again. In May or June 2014, they harassed
Filipino fishermen through water cannon, sound blare, and there were times that they have
a gun when they came near us.795

770. Since the introduction of restrictions on Philippine fishing activity at Scarborough Shoal,
several of the fishermen interviewed noted a decrease in income,796 expressed uncertainty about
the continued viability of their trade,797 or have retired.798
3.

The Philippines’ Position

771. The Philippines argues that China violated its obligations under Article 2(3) of the Convention,
and considers this conclusion supported indirectly by reference to Articles 51(1) and 62(3) of
the Convention.799 Additionally, the Philippines submits that China has violated Articles 279800
and 300 of the Convention.801
(a)

Article 2(3) of the Convention

772. The Philippines maintains that, by preventing Filipino fishermen from fishing in the waters of
Scarborough Shoal,802 China has violated Article 2(3) of the Convention, which provides that
“sovereignty over the territorial sea is exercised subject to this Convention and to other rules of
international law.”803
773. As a threshold matter, the Philippines submits that Article 2(3), rather than being merely
hortatory, imposes substantive obligations on States.

The Philippines recalls the Chagos

794

Affidavit of J.P. Legaspi, para. A5.

795

Affidavit of J.P Legaspi, para. A27.

796

Affidavit of T.D. Forones, para. Q27-A27; Affidavit of M.C. Lanog, para. Q27-A27; Affidavit of
J.P. Legaspi, para. Q28-A28; Affidavit of C.D. Talatagod, para. Q27-A27; Affidavit of C.O. Taneo,
para. Q34-A35.

797

Affidavit of T.D. Forones, para. Q27-A27; Affidavit of C.D. Talatagod, para. Q27-A27.

798

Affidavit of C.D. Talatagod, para. Q27-A27.

799

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp. 185-186; (Day 4), pp. 108-110.

800

Memorial, paras. 6.42-6.45; Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), pp. 110-111.

801

Memorial, paras. 6.46-6.47; Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp. 185-186.

802

Memorial, paras. 3.51-3.54, 6.36-6.37.

803

Convention, art. 2(3).

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Marine Protected Area Arbitration, 804 in which the tribunal “unanimously rejected” the
argument that Article 2(3) was “descriptive” only.805
774. In this regard, the Philippines also recalls the individual opinion of Judge Alvarez in the
Anglo-Norwegian Fisheries case, acknowledging that a State might “determine the extent of its
territorial sea,” on the condition that such determination “does not infringe on rights acquired by
other states.” 806

Finally, the Philippines regards instructive the writings of Sir Gerald

Fitzmaurice, who framed traditional fishing rights in the following terms:
[I]f the fishing vessels of a given country have been accustomed from time immemorial, or
over a long period, to fish in a certain area, on the basis of the area being high seas and
common to all, it may be said that their country has through them . . . acquired a vested
interest that the fisheries of that area should remain available to its fishing vessels (of
course on a non-exclusive basis)—so that if another country asserts a claim to that area as
territorial waters, which is found to be valid or comes to be recognized, this can only be
subject to the acquired rights of the fishery in question, which must continue to be
respected.807

Accordingly, the Philippines deems Article 2(3) to impose substantive obligations informed by
general rules of international law, including the preservation of pre-existing rights.
775. One such rule, the Philippines submits, is the protection of traditional fishing rights of the sort
raised in its Submission No. 10; there is, in other words, “a general rule of international law that
requires a state to respect long and uninterrupted fishing by the nationals of another state in its
territorial sea.”808
776. In the Philippines’ view, the protection of traditional fishing rights is firmly established in
national and international jurisprudence. In The Paquete Habana, for instance, the Philippines
notes that the U.S. Supreme Court recognised, then “adopted and applied the rule of customary
international law that exempts fishing vessels from prize capture in wartime.”809
777. From arbitral practice, the Philippines recalls the holding in the Eritrea v. Yemen arbitration,
that required Yemen to “ensure that the traditional fishing regime of free access and enjoyment
for the fishermen of both Eritrea and Yemen shall be preserved for the benefit of the lives and

804

Chagos Marine Protected Area (Mauritius v. United Kingdom), Award of 18 March 2015.

805

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 164.

806

Anglo-Norwegian Fisheries (United Kingdom v. Norway), Judgment, ICJ Reports 1951, p. 150.

807

G. Fitzmaurice, “The Law and Procedure of the International Court of Justice, 1951-54: General
Principles” British Yearbook of International Law, Vol. 30, p. 1 at p. 51 (1953).

808

Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 165.

809

Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp. 165-166, referring to The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677 (1900).

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livelihoods of this poor and industrious order of men.”810 The Philippines therefore submits
that, “provided it has been exercised over a long period of time without interruption or
opposition,” traditional fishing in the territorial sea of another State is protected by general
international law as incorporated through Article 2(3) of the Convention.811 In this regard, the
Philippines notes that, in the Abyei Arbitration, the tribunal “applied the same rule even to the
delimitation of a land boundary to protect traditional grazing rights.”812
778. With regard to the scope of traditional fishing rights protected, the Philippines again refers to
the Eritrea v. Yemen award. The Philippines accordingly argues that a State may restrict fishing
rights “only . . . to the extent those activities may go beyond those that have traditionally been
conducted.”813 Within the sphere of protected fishing rights, however, the Philippines considers
that “any other administrative measure that might impact” traditional fishing rights “must be
agreed between the states involved.”814
779. The Philippines argues that fishing by Philippine nationals at Scarborough Shoal “plainly
meets” the threshold required to deem it a protected activity under international law. 815 It
characterises Filipino fishing practices in the area as “longstanding”, 816 “long”, 817 “deep”, 818
“peaceful”,

819

“uninterrupted”,

820

“ancient”,

821

and

having occurred “since times

immemorial”.822 In the Philippines’ view, a combination of sources, ranging from (a) colonial
maps of the Philippines depicting Scarborough Shoal, 823 (b) twentieth-century publications

810

Eritrea v. Yemen, Award of 9 October 1998, RIAA Vol. XXII p 209 at pp. 329-330, para. 526.

811

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 170; see also Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 165.

812

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 170; Abyei Arbitration (Government of Sudan v. Sudan People’s
Liberation Movement/Army), Final Award of 22 June 2009, RIAA, Vol. XXX, p. 145 at pp. 408-409,
412, paras. 753-754, 766.

813

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 171.

814

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp. 171-172.

815

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 170.

816

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 163.

817

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 181.

818

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 174.

819

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 181.

820

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 181.

821

Memorial, para. 6.40.

822

Memorial, para. 6.41.

823

Memorial, para. 6.41; Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 175.

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describing fishing practices there,824 and (c) testimony of Filipino fishermen,825 all support the
conclusion that the fishing practices it alleges qualify as activities protected under Article 2(3)
of the Convention.
780. In the Philippines’ view, China has additionally breached its obligations under Article 2(3) of
the UN Charter and Article 279 of the Convention to resolve disputes through peaceful
means.826 It suggests that China “rejected” a Philippine proposal to settle the Parties’ dispute
through recourse to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea;827 instead, the Philippines
argues, China “sought to consolidate its hold on Scarborough Shoal by deploying and anchoring
Chinese vessels in such manner as to form an effective physical barrier to prevent Philippine
vessels from entering the area.”828 The Philippines adds:
Despite the longstanding use of Scarborough Shoal as a traditional fishing ground by
Filipino fishermen, China abruptly acted to prevent them from pursuing their livelihoods in
the area in April and May 2012. . . . China has since that date exercised control over
Scarborough and only intermittently allowed Filipino fishing vessels to approach the area.
These acts violate China’s obligations under the Convention. 829

781. Finally, the Philippines seeks to distinguish its Submissions regarding “historic fishing rights”
from “historic rights” as claimed by China. It does so in three ways. First, whereas China
allegedly asserts “rights of control”, including over “exploration for and exploitation of all the
resources within the nine-dash line,” the Philippines maintains that it “seeks only access for its
fishermen to pursue their traditional livelihood.”830 Second, the Philippines claims that “there is
an obvious and significant difference between individual, non-exclusive rights on the one
hand,” such as those for which it purports to seek protection in this arbitration, and “exclusive
sovereign rights on the other,” including China’s claim to “exclusive sovereign rights to all the
resources in areas beyond 12 miles from Scarborough [Shoal].” 831 Third, the Philippines
contends that its Submission No. 10 is “limited to the territorial sea”—the regime of which is
circumscribed by “other rules of international law” per Article 2(3)— as compared with China's
824

Memorial, para. 6.41; Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp. 175-176; see also A.M. Mane, “Status, Problems and
Prospects of the Philippine Fisheries Industry,” Philippine Farmers Journal, Vol. 2, No. 4 (1960), p. 34
(Annex 244).

825

Affidavit of R.Z. Comandante; Affidavit of T.D. Forones; Affidavit of M.C. Lanog; Affidavit of
J.P. Legaspi; Affidavit of C.D. Talatagod; Affidavit of C.O. Taneo.

826

Memorial, para. 6.42-6.45, 7.35; Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), pp. 185-186; (Day 4), pp. 110-112.

827

Memorial, para. 3.52; Note Verbale from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines,
to the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Manila, No. 12-0894 (11 April 2012). (Annex 205).

828

Memorial, para. 3.53.

829

Memorial, para. 6.42.

830

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 172.

831

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p 173.

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assertion of “exclusive historic rights . . . beyond the limits of any conceivable entitlement
under the Convention.”832
(b)

Articles 51(1) and 62(3) of the Convention

782. The Philippines considers that Articles 51(1) and 62(3) of the Convention, though not directly
applicable to the present case, are nevertheless relevant insofar as they refer to traditional
fishing rights. 833 Article 51(1) provides that “an archipelagic State . . . shall recognize
traditional fishing rights and other legitimate activities of the immediately adjacent
neighbouring States in certain areas falling within archipelagic waters.”

For its part,

Article 62(3) provides that, “[i]n giving access to other States to its exclusive economic zone
under this article, the coastal State shall take into account all relevant factors, including, inter
alia, . . . the need to minimize economic dislocation in States whose nationals have habitually
fished in the zone.”
783. In the Philippines’ view, Articles 51(1) and 62(3) are important for two reasons. First, they
constitute an “express recognition of the existence, and underscore[] the importance, of
traditional fishing by the nationals of the immediately adjacent coastal states.”834 Second, the
articles confirm that, where the drafters of the Convention intended to “preserve traditional
fishing in the context of the new legal regimes they created,” they did so “explicitly” and “made
clear to what extent such prior uses were or were not protected.”835
(c)

China’s Obligation to Act in Good Faith and Settle Disputes by Peaceful Means

784. Finally, the Philippines submits that China has “unlawfully endangered justice by exacerbating
the dispute between it and the Philippines concerning their maritime rights and entitlements in
the vicinity of Scarborough Shoal.”836 Specifically, the Philippines considers China’s conduct
to be in breach of its obligations, both under Articles 279 and 300 of the Convention and under
general international law, to refrain from “any acts that might aggravate or extend the
dispute.”837 The Philippines’ arguments in relation to these issues are elaborated more fully in
paragraphs 1130 to 1140 of this Award, relating to its Submission No. 14.
832

Hearing Tr. (Day 2), p. 173.

833

Hearing Tr. (Day 4), pp. 107-110.

834

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), pp. 109-110.

835

Merits Hearing Tr. (Day 4), p. 110.

836

Memorial, para. 6.45.

837

Memorial, para. 6.45.

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785. In relation to the present Submission, the Philippines observes that China took no actions to
disturb traditional fishing by Filipinos in the aftermath of declaring a territorial sea of
12 nautical miles around Scarborough Shoal in 1958.838 It concludes that, in light of “China’s
own longstanding practice in what it claims as territorial sea,” China has “create[d] an
obligation not to endanger justice by abruptly altering the status quo on which local artisanal
fishing depends.”839
4.

China’s Position

786. Although China has not responded to the Philippines’ Submission in the context of these
proceedings, China’s position is made clear in its contemporaneous statements from 2012.
787. Like the Philippines, China claims sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal and asserts that its
waters constitute a traditional fishing ground for Chinese fishermen. On 12 June 2012, the
Embassy of China in Manila published the following statement laying out China’s claim:
Huangyan Island and its surrounding waters have been China’s traditional fishing grounds
since ancient times. Chinese fishermen have engaged in fishery activities for generations.
In addition, they have used Huangyan Island as a safe have in their voyage in the South
China Sea. Genglubu, an ancient Chinese navigation log recording trips in the South China
Sea, and other ancient documents and literature contain complete records of Chinese
fishermen’s activities around Huangyan Island. Since the Yuan Dynasty, the Chinese
people have never stopped developing and exploiting Huangyan Island and its surrounding
waters and the Chinese government has exercised effective management and jurisdiction
over their activities all these years. These historical facts are supported by official
documents, local chronicles and official maps in the past centuries. 840

788. China also set out its own account of the events that took place on 10 April 2012:
When 12 fishing boats from Hainan, China were conducting normal operations in the
Huangyan Island lagoon on the morning of April 10, the Philippine Navy warship Gregorio
del Pilar blocked the entrance to the lagoon. The Philippine armed personnel boarded four
Chinese fishing boats, question the Chinese fishermen, searched the boats and took photos.
They were rude and rough, severely violated China’s territorial sovereignty and the human
rights of Chinese fishermen. On the afternoon of 10 April, upon learning of the incident,
the Chinese marine surveillance vessels No.84 and No.75, both performing routine patrol
duty nearby, immediately headed to the Island to protect the safety of the Chinese
fishermen. On the afternoon of 11 April, the Chinese fishery administration boat No.303
also arrived on the site and instructed the Chinese fishing boats and fishermen to evacuate
safely and get rid of the Philippine intimidation. Afterwards, an archaeological ship of the
Philippines stayed in the lagoon for illegal operation for a long time, and refused to leave
the site until 18 April after China’s repeated representations. 841
838

Memorial, para. 6.44.

839

Memorial, para. 6.44.

840

Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Republic of the Philippines, Ten Questions Regarding
Huangyan Island (15 June 2012) (Annex 120).

841

Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Republic of the Philippines, Ten Questions Regarding
Huangyan Island (15 June 2012) (Annex 120).

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789. China also elaborated on its actions following April 2012:
After the occurrence of Huangyan Island Incident, China has consistently adhered to its
position of solving the issue through diplomatic consultation. However, the Philippines
kept escalating the situation, made erroneous remarks to mislead the public at home and
abroad and whip up hostile sentiments. All the above actions have severely damaged the
bilateral relations. To prevent further provocations by the Philippines, the Chinese public
service ships have continued to keep close watch over Huangyan Island waters, provide
administrative and other service to Chinese fishing boats in accordance with China’s laws,
so as to ensure Chinese fishermen a good environment for operations in their traditional
fishing grounds.842

790. China has also responded to the Philippines’ allegations that China’s conduct fell short of its
obligation to resolve the Parties’ dispute peacefully. On 24 May 2012, the Chargé d’Affaires of
the Philippines’ Embassy in Beijing met with the Director General of the Department of
Boundary and Ocean Affairs of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As recorded by the
Philippines, China expressed the following position:
DG Deng also referred to Article 2.4 of the United Nations Charter, saying that on 10 April,
the Philippines used a warship to harass unarmed Chinese fishermen. This is a sign of the
use of force. Since April 10, all actions of the Philippines in Huangyan Island are in
violation of Chinese territorial sovereignty. The Philippines is now citing Article 2.4.
China believes that it is the Philippines that has violated this Article and China deeply
regrets this.
...
There have been no Chinese words or actions to escalate the situation at the multilateral
level; on the diplomatic front or in the media. Nor has China taken any action on the
ground in Huangyan Island waters.843

791. As far as the Tribunal is aware, China has not made specific statements concerning the status of
Filipino fishermen at Scarborough Shoal. Nevertheless, the Tribunal considers the content of
China’s statements, especially with regard to the presence and conduct of Chinese vessels at the
feature, to indicate China’s position that its actions at Scarborough Shoal are generally lawful.
5.

The Tribunal’s Considerations

792. The Tribunal notes at the outset that both the Philippines and China claim sovereignty over
Scarborough Shoal and that both the Philippines and China consider Scarborough Shoal to be a
traditional fishing ground for their nationals.
793. Consistent with the limitations on its jurisdiction, the Tribunal has refrained from any decision
or comment on sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal. The Tribunal also considers it imperative
842

Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Republic of the Philippines, Ten Questions Regarding
Huangyan Island (15 June 2012) (Annex 120).

843

Memorandum from the Embassy of the Republic of the Philippines in Beijing to the Secretary of Foreign
Affairs of the Republic of the Philippines, No. ZPE-080-2012-S (24 May 2012) (Annex 81).

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to emphasise that the following discussion of fishing rights at Scarborough Shoal is not
predicated on any assumption that one Party or the other is sovereign over the feature. Nor is
there any need for such assumptions. The international law relevant to traditional fishing would
apply equally to fishing by Chinese fishermen in the event that the Philippines were sovereign
over Scarborough Shoal as to fishing by Filipino fishermen in the event that China were
sovereign. The Tribunal’s conclusions with respect to traditional fishing are thus independent
of the question of sovereignty.
(a)

The Law Applicable to Traditional Fishing

794. The attention paid to traditional fishing rights in international law stems from the recognition
that traditional livelihoods and cultural patterns are fragile in the face of development and
modern ideas of interstate relations and warrant particular protection.
795. Also referred to as artisanal fishing, traditional fishing was extensively discussed in the Eritrea
v. Yemen arbitration, which looked to the reports of the Food and Agriculture Organization of
the United Nations (the “FAO”) for guidance on artisanal fishing in the Red Sea. Relying on
the FAO’s studies of artisanal fishing, that tribunal noted that:
artisanal vessels and their gear are simple. The vessels are usually canoes fitted with small
outboard engines, slightly larger vessels (9-12m) fitted with 40-75 hp engines, or fishing
sambuks with inboard engines. Dugout canoes and small rafts (ramas) are also in use.
Hand lines, gill nets and long lines are used. In its Report on Fishing in Eritrean waters, the
FAO study states that this artisanal fishing gear, which varies according to the boat and the
fish, is “simple and efficient”. 844

796. The Eritrea v. Yemen tribunal went on, however, to note:
the term “artisanal” is not to be understood as applying in the future only to a certain type
of fishing exactly as it is practised today. “Artisanal fishing” is used in contrast to
“industrial fishing”. It does not exclude improvements in powering the small boats, in the
techniques of navigation, communication or in the techniques of fishing; but the traditional
regime of fishing does not extend to large-scale commercial or industrial fishing nor to
fishing by nationals of third States in the Red Sea, whether small-scale or industrial.845

797. Artisanal fishing has been a matter of concern in a variety of international fora without any
common definition having been adopted. Artisanal fishing has been addressed at the World
Trade Organization in the context of the Doha Round negotiations on fisheries subsidies, 846

844

Eritrea v. Yemen, Award of 17 December 1999, RIAA Vol. XXII, p. 335 at pp. 359-360, para. 105.

845

Eritrea v. Yemen, Award of 17 December 1999, RIAA Vol. XXII, p. 335 at p. 360, para. 106.

846

See World Trade Organisation, Ministerial Declaration, Fourth WTO Ministerial Conference, Doha,
Qatar, WT/MIN(01)/DEC/1, paras. 28, 31 (14 November 2001).

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where a variety of definitions have been advanced.847 Traditional, artisanal, and small-scale
fishing has also formed part of the work of the FAO,848 the International Labour Office,849 and
the United Nations Environment Programme (“UNEP”).850 Despite this attention, the essential
defining element of artisanal fishing remains, as the tribunal in Eritrea v. Yemen noted, relative.
The specific practice of artisanal fishing will vary from region to region, in keeping with local
customs. Its distinguishing characteristic will always be that, in contrast with industrial fishing,
artisanal fishing will be simple and carried out on a small scale, using fishing methods that
largely approximate those that have historically been used in the region.
798. The legal basis for protecting artisanal fishing stems from the notion of vested rights and the
understanding that, having pursued a livelihood through artisanal fishing over an extended
period, generations of fishermen have acquired a right, akin to property, in the ability to
continue to fish in the manner of their forebears. Thus, traditional fishing rights extend to
artisanal fishing that is carried out largely in keeping with the longstanding practice of the
community, in other words to “those entitlements that all fishermen have exercised continuously
through the ages,”851 but not to industrial fishing that departs radically from traditional practices.
Importantly, artisanal fishing rights attach to the individuals and communities that have
traditionally fished in an area. These are not the historic rights of States, as in the case of
historic titles, but private rights, as was recognised in Eritrea v. Yemen, where the tribunal
declined to endorse “the western legal fiction . . . whereby all legal rights, even those in reality
held by individuals, were deemed to be those of the State.”852
799. Where private rights are concerned, international law has long recognised that developments
with respect to international boundaries and conceptions of sovereignty should, as much as
possible, refrain from modifying individual rights. Thus the Permanent Court of International
Justice in its Settlers of German Origin in Poland advisory opinion noted that “[p]rivate rights

847

See, e.g., World Trade Organization, Definitions Related to Artisanal, Small-Scale And Subsistence
Fishing: Note by the Secretariat, TN/RL/W/197 (24 November 2005).

848

See, e.g., Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Voluntary Guidelines for Securing
Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries: In the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (2015).

849

See, e.g., M. Ben-Yami, Risks and Dangers in Small-Scale Fisheries: An overview, International Labour
Office, Sectoral Activities Programme, Doc. SAP 3.6/WP.147 (2000).

850

See, e.g., D.K. Schorr, UN Environment Programme, Artisanal Fishing: Promoting Poverty Reduction
and Community Development through New WTO Rules on Fisheries Subsidies: An Issue and Options
Paper, pp. 12-18 (November 2005).

851

Eritrea v. Yemen, Award of 17 December 1999, RIAA Vol. p. 335 at p. 359, para. 104.

852

Eritrea v. Yemen, Award of 17 December 1999, RIAA, Vol. XXII, p. 335 at p. 359, para. 101.

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acquired under existing law do not cease on a change of sovereignty,”853 and the tribunal in the
Abyei Arbitration observed that “traditional rights, in the absence of an explicit agreement to the
contrary, have usually been deemed to remain unaffected by any territorial delimitation.”854 The
same principle was recognised with respect to rights at sea by the tribunal in the Bering Sea
Arbitration, when it exempted indigenous peoples from its division of jurisdiction with respect
to the hunting of fur seals in the Bering Sea.855
800. Before turning to the question of the status of artisanal fishing rights under the Convention, the
Tribunal notes that it is conscious of what could be seen as a contradiction in the Philippines’
Submissions. On the one hand, the Philippines has asserted (and the Tribunal has agreed) that
any historic rights China may have had in the waters of the South China Sea beyond its
territorial sea were extinguished by the adoption in the Convention and in customary law of the
concept of the exclusive economic zone. On the other hand, the Philippines has argued that its
traditional fishing rights at Scarborough Shoal must be protected, even in the event that China
has sovereignty over the feature.
801. The Tribunal considers that no contradiction in fact exists between these two positions. Rather,
the law reflects the particular circumstances of the creation of the exclusive economic zone.
802. Under the law existing prior to the exclusive economic zone, any expansion of the maritime
areas under national jurisdiction functioned essentially as described in paragraph 799 above.
The expansion of jurisdiction was considered equivalent to the adjustment of a boundary or a
change in sovereignty, and acquired rights, in particular to fisheries, were considered protected.
Thus, in the Fisheries Jurisdiction Cases, the International Court of Justice held that Iceland’s
expansion of its fisheries zone could give it only preferential rights vis-à-vis the nationals of
States that had habitually fished in the area.856
803. With the adoption in the Convention of the exclusive economic zone, however, a different
calculus applied. Having reviewed the extensive attention given to the question of fishing by
nationals of other States in the exclusive economic zone (see paragraphs 248 to 254 and 522
853

Questions relating to Settlers of German Origin in Poland, Advisory Opinion, PCIJ Series B, No. 6, p. 6
at p. 36.

854

Abyei Arbitration (Government of Sudan v. Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army), Final Award of
22 June 2009, RIAA, Vol. XXX, p. 145 at p. 412, para. 766.

855

Award between the United States and the United Kingdom relating to the Rights of Jurisdiction of United
States in the Bering’s Sea and the Preservation of Fur Seals (United Kingdom v. United States), Award of
15 August 1893, RIAA, Vol. XXVIII, p. 263 at p. 271.

856

Fisheries Jurisdiction (United Kingdom v. Iceland), Merits, Judgment, ICJ Reports 1974, p. 3 at
pp. 27-28, para. 62; Fisheries Jurisdiction (Federal Republic of Germany v. Iceland), Merits, Judgment,
ICJ Reports 1974, p. 175 at pp. 196-197, para. 54.

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to 538 above) and the degree of control over fisheries that was ultimately given to the coastal
State, the Tribunal does not consider it possible that the drafters of the Convention intended for
traditional or artisanal fishing rights to survive the introduction of the exclusive economic zone.
In this respect, the Tribunal disagrees with the conclusions of the tribunal in Eritrea v. Yemen
(which held that the traditional fishing regime in the Red Sea extended throughout the maritime
zones of those States) and considers that that tribunal was able to reach the conclusions it did
only because it was permitted to apply factors other than the Convention itself under the
applicable law provisions of the parties’ arbitration agreement (see paragraph 259 above).
804. Under the Convention, therefore, traditional fishing rights are accorded differing treatment
across maritime zones:
(a)

In archipelagic waters, traditional fishing rights are expressly protected, and Article 51(1)
of the Convention provides that “an archipelagic State shall respect existing agreements
with other States and shall recognize traditional fishing rights and other legitimate
activities of the immediately adjacent neighbouring States in certain areas falling within
archipelagic waters.”

(b)

In the exclusive economic zone, in contrast, traditional fishing rights are extinguished,
except insofar as Article 62(3) specifies that “the need to minimize economic dislocation
in States whose nationals have habitually fished in the zone” shall constitute one of the
factors to be taken into account by the costal State in giving access to any surplus in the
allowable catch. The Tribunal considers that the inclusion of this provision—which
would be entirely unnecessary if traditional fishing rights were preserved in the exclusive
economic zone—confirms that the drafters of the Convention did not intend to preserve
such rights. The Convention does not, of course, preclude that States may continue to
recognise traditional fishing rights in the exclusive economic zone in their legislation, in
bilateral fisheries access agreements, or through regional fisheries management
organisations. Such recognition would, in most instances, be commendable, but it is not
required by the Convention, except to the extent specified in Article 62(3).

(c)

Finally, in the territorial sea, the Convention continued the existing legal regime largely
without change. The innovation in the Convention was the adoption of an agreed limit of
12 nautical miles on the breadth of the territorial sea, not the development of its legal
content.

The Tribunal sees nothing that would suggest that the adoption of the

Convention was intended to alter acquired rights in the territorial sea and concludes that
within that zone—in contrast to the exclusive economic zone—established traditional

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fishing rights remain protected by international law. The Tribunal also notes that the vast
majority of traditional fishing takes place in close proximity to the coast.
(b)

The Protection of Traditional Fishing at Scarborough Shoal

805. Based on the record before it, the Tribunal is of the view that Scarborough Shoal has been a
traditional fishing ground for fishermen of many nationalities, including the Philippines, China
(including from Taiwan), and Viet Nam. The stories of most of those who have fished at
Scarborough Shoal in generations past have not been the subject of written records, and the
Tribunal considers that traditional fishing rights constitute an area where matters of evidence
should be approached with sensitivity. That certain livelihoods have not been considered of
interest to official record keepers or to the writers of history does not make them less important
to those who practise them. With respect to Scarborough Shoal, the Tribunal accepts that the
claims of both the Philippines and China to have traditionally fished at the shoal are accurate
and advanced in good faith.
806. The Tribunal does not have before it extensive details of the fishing methods traditionally used
by either Filipino or Chinese fishermen, or of the communities that have traditionally dispatched
vessels to Scarborough Shoal. In keeping with the fact that traditional fishing rights are
customary rights, acquired through long usage, the Tribunal notes that the methods of fishing
protected under international law would be those that broadly follow the manner of fishing
carried out for generations: in other words, artisanal fishing in keeping with the traditions and
customs of the region. The Tribunal is not prepared to specify any precise threshold for the
fishing methods that would qualify as artisanal fishing, nor does the Tribunal deem it necessary
to consider how and when traditional fishing practices may gradually change with the advent of
technology.
807. Based on the record before it,857 the Tribunal is of the view that at least some of the fishing
carried out at Scarborough Shoal has been of a traditional, artisanal nature. The Tribunal is also
open to the possibility that some of the fishing at Scarborough Shoal may have become
sufficiently organised and industrial in character that it can no longer fairly be considered
artisanal.

857

See Report from FRPLEU/QRT Officers, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Republic of the
Philippines, to the Director, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Republic of the Philippines
(2 May 2012) (Annex 80); Affidavit of T.D. Forones, para. A5, A8, A11, A18, A20; Affidavit of
J.P. Legaspi, para. Q12-A12 Q15-A15; Affidavit of C.D. Talatagod, para. A4, A7, A9, A20.

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808. Turning to the Philippines’ Submission, the Tribunal notes that Article 2(3) of the Convention
provides that “[t]he sovereignty over the territorial sea is exercised subject to this Convention
and to other rules of international law.” The Tribunal agrees with the finding in the Chagos
Marine Protected Area Arbitration that, in the territorial sea, “Article 2(3) contains an
obligation on States to exercise their sovereignty subject to ‘other rules of international law’.”858
Traditional fishing rights constitute a vested right, and the Tribunal considers the rules of
international law on the treatment of the vested rights of foreign nationals859 to fall squarely
within the “other rules of international law” applicable in the territorial sea.
809. The Tribunal notes, however, that traditional fishing rights are not absolute or impervious to
regulation.

Indeed, the careful regulation of traditional fishing may be necessary for

conservation and to restrict environmentally harmful practices. Customary international law, in
this respect, does not restrict the coastal State from reasonable regulation (a principle recognised
with respect to treaty-based fishing rights in North Atlantic Coast Fisheries860). Nor would it
prevent the coastal State from assessing the scope of traditional fishing to determine, in good
faith, the threshold of scale and technological development beyond which it would no longer
accept that fishing by foreign nationals is traditional in nature.
810. The Tribunal finds as a matter of fact that since May 2012, Chinese Government vessels have
acted to prevent entirely fishing by Filipino fishermen at Scarborough Shoal for significant, but
not continuous, periods of time. The Philippines has provided evidence of Chinese vessels
physically blockading the entrance to Scarborough Shoal, 861 and Filipino fishermen have
testified to being driven away by Chinese vessels employing water cannon. 862 During these
periods, Chinese fishing vessels have continued to fish at Scarborough Shoal.863 The actions of
Chinese Government vessels constitute official acts of China, and the consequences that follow
from them are attributable to China as such.
811. With respect to these actions, the Tribunal considers that the Philippines’ Submission No. 10 is
based on one of two alternative premises. If, on the one hand, the Philippines is sovereign over
858

Chagos Marine Protected Area (Mauritius v. United Kingdom), Award of 18 March 2015, para. 514.

859

See, e.g., Certain German Interests in Polish Upper Silesia, Merits, Judgment of 25 May 1926, PCIJ,
Series A, No.7, p. 4 at p. 42.

860

North Atlantic Coast Fisheries (United Kingdom/United States), Permanent Court of Arbitration, Award
of 7 September 1910, RIAA, Vol. XI, p. 167.

861

Memorandum from the Commander, Naval Forces Northern Luzon, Philippine Navy, to the Flag Officer
in Command, Philippine Navy, No. CNFNL Rad Msg Cite NFCC-0612-001 (2 June 2012) (Annex 83)

862

Affidavit of T.D. Forones; Affidavit of J.P. Legaspi; Affidavit of C.D Talatagod; Affidavit of C.O. Taneo.

863

Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Republic of the Philippines, Ten Questions Regarding
Huangyan Island (15 June 2012) (Annex 120).

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Scarborough Shoal, then the surrounding waters would constitute the territorial sea of the
Philippines, with all that follows from it. If, on the other hand, China is sovereign over
Scarborough Shoal, the premise of the Philippines’ Submission is that China has failed to
respect the traditional fishing rights of Filipino fishermen within China’s territorial sea.
812. In the Tribunal’s view, it is not necessary to explore the limits on the protection due in
customary international law to the acquired rights of individuals and communities engaged in
traditional fishing. The Tribunal is satisfied that the complete prevention by China of fishing by
Filipinos at Scarborough Shoal over significant periods of time after May 2012 is not
compatible with the respect due under international law to the traditional fishing rights of
Filipino fishermen. This is particularly the case given that China appears to have acted to
prevent fishing by Filipinos, specifically, while permitting its own nationals to continue. The
Tribunal is cognisant that April and May 2012 represented a period of heightened tensions
between the Philippines and China at Scarborough Shoal. China’s dispute with the Philippines
over sovereignty and law enforcement at Scarborough Shoal, however, was with the Philippine
Government. The Tribunal does not see corresponding circumstances that would have justified
taking action against Filipino fishermen engaged in their traditional livelihood or that would
have warranted continuing to exclude Filipino fishermen from Scarborough Shoal for months
after the Philippines had withdrawn its official vessels. The Tribunal notes, however, that it
would have reached exactly the same conclusion had the Philippines established control over
Scarborough Shoal and acted in a discriminatory manner to exclude Chinese fishermen engaged
in traditional fishing.
813. With respect to the Philippines’ claim that China’s actions at Scarborough Shoal represented a
specific failure to fulfil its duties pursuant to Article 2(3) of the UN Charter and Article 279 of
the Convention to settle disputes by peaceful means, the Tribunal notes that both Parties found
fault with the other in their handling of the standoff and that both found cause to allege breaches
of the UN Charter.864 The Tribunal does not find the record before it sufficient to support such a
claim in respect of either Party.

864

See, e.g., Memorandum from the Embassy of the Republic of the Philippines in Beijing to the Secretary
of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Philippines, No. ZPE-080-2012-S (24 May 2012) (Annex 81).

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(c)

Conclusion

814. Based on the considerations outlined above, the Tribunal finds that China has, through the
operation of its official vessels at Scarborough Shoal from May 2012 onwards, unlawfully
prevented Filipino fishermen from engaging in traditional fishing at Scarborough Shoal. The
Tribunal records that this decision is entirely without prejudice to the question of sovereignty
over Scarborough Shoal.

*

*